The Beginning of Wisdom

November 14, 2013,  Huff Post Religion

By Dave Pruett, Former NASA researcher; computational scientist; emeritus professor of mathematics, James Madison University; author, Reason and Wonder


"Awe is the beginning of wisdom." -- Rabbi Abraham Heschel

Years ago, a friend confessed that she was not at all religious. Then, in the next moment, she described her reaction upon first beholding Monument Valley, whose stark, unearthly beauty provoked her spontaneous tears. My friend, although not conventionally "religious," was deeply spiritual, I believe, for the ability to be awed is the hallmark of a receptive spirit.

Wonder -- surprise mingled with admiration -- and awe -- wonder heightened to reverence -- are cousins, if not siblings. Both are states of receptivity in which one grasps, at least for an instant, that the world is not what it seems; that it is far more mysterious than our senses have led us to believe. When one holds such awareness beyond the fleeting moment, he or she becomes enchanted.

Enchantment is the natural state of children. It is common among the aboriginal peoples of the world and also among religious mystics. Alas, among Western adults, enchantment is all too rare. Insulated from nature, bombarded by technology, compulsively busy, and accustomed to noise, we leave precious little space for wonder. If there is a universal criticism of the Western world, it is, in the words of Episcopalian priest Matthew Fox, that "we have lost our awe." Similarly, cultural historian Richard Tarnas mourns our "disenchantment of the universe," the blowback of our individualistic, materialistic, and mechanistic Western worldview.

Awe is the key ingredient of mysticism, the bedrock of the great religious traditions. Mystical awareness also inspires countless artists and scientists, especially the great ones. "The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical," said Einstein. "It is the source of all true art and science."

If awe is the foundation for wisdom, for art, for science, and for religion, then it would behoove us to make space for awe and to coax our jaded existences back to life by nurturing it...

Read the article.


Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/Vadim Sadovski.

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