Initial impressions

Last week I put out an appeal on Twitter for people’s experiences of awe and where they had experienced it. The Twitter community was as generous as ever, and their impressions began to flow in. As a further development, I created an interactive map, where people could mark those places where they had tasted awe. To date, the results are as follows:

  • 540+ views
  • 43 map pins
  • 24 pins are on sites of  natural beauty
  • 3 are in non-religious buildings
  • 8 are in churches, both great and small
  • 8 indicate that a sense of awe is drawn from human beings.
Do these findings surprise you, I wonder? We might have expected the natural world to take precedence over the built environment, but what about the figure of church ‘experiences’ being less than 25% of the total? This may reflect the style of churchmanship amongst the sample (data of which I am unaware). Alternatively, it may indicate that the linguistic restrictions imposed by communal worship cannot equal the wordless eloquence of nature when it comes to capturing a sense of awe. Should this be so?
My original intention for sending out the Twitter plea was that I was in the midst of preparing a sermon on Ecclesiastes 5 v.1 – 7. In those verses the writer, who has kept pretty silent about God hitherto, leaves his readers in no doubt that the temple is the place to meet with God, and that when we get there we should “stand in awe of Him”.  Many centuries later, Jesus also emphasised the importance of ‘communal’ worship, warning in the Sermon on the Mount that it should be sincere and untainted by unhealthy relationships. What has changed in the intervening time, I wonder?
Some years ago, on the popular TV series, The Vicar of Dibley, an entire episode centred around the design of a new stained glass window for the Parish Church. As you can imagine – everybody had an opinion regarding what should be featured, and few of those opinions were the same. When the great day came for the unveiling, the Vicar pulled back the curtain to reveal…a clear glass window with the beauty of the hills outside clearly visible to the congregation. Maybe she had a point…

Turville Parish Church - used in Vicar of Dibley (aboutbritain.com)

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