Living an awe-full life

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By Nancy Kennedy

The other day I listened to an interview with Alexandra Horowitz as she discussed her book, “On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes.”
She lives in New York City with a dog and a toddler, and frequently walks around her neighborhood, traveling the same route, passing the same buildings and businesses and trees and traffic.
After taking the same walk many hundreds of times, she realized she never noticed where she was going. So, the next time out she decided to notice as much as she could.
With notebook in hand she noted the trash bags left out on the curbs, one with spaghetti spilling out. She noted newspapers on the front steps and a fallen honey locust tree.
The next time she walked with her dog and paid attention to what he paid attention to and noticed that her dog’s experience was vastly different from hers, that her dog walked with his nose, sniffing his way in curly-Q circles and not a straight line, that he paused and stopped and started, taking his time.
Then she walked with her 19-month-old son, letting him lead her. She noted that his walk encompassed all that he could touch and even lick, it was stomping and marching and skipping and lots of tilting his head back and pointing.
At the time her son was learning the letter “O,” so every O and O-shaped object he saw he’d stop, point and cry, “O!”
Later, Horowitz walked with nine others, including a psychologist, an entomologist, even a blind person, letting each one tell her what they saw and experienced while walking with her, and each person’s walk was uniquely different.
She said that so much of life goes by unappreciated because we fail to pay attention.
The same day I heard the Horowitz interview I read a column about living without awe and wonder. The author, Paul Tripp, wrote that humans were created to “live our lives in the shadow of awe” — every word we speak, every action, every decision, every desire meant to be “colored by awe and wonder.”
Our eyes were meant to be wide open, our heads tipped upward, always looking outward, to have vision and scope, seeing the possible and also the impossible, ever being surprised and inspired.
Tripp wrote, “Bad things happen when human beings lose their sense of awe. Bad things happen when we have no wonder inside of us…when we’re no longer amazed…when we look around and nothing impresses us anymore.
“When sin takes awe away from you, that sense of divine wonder that is meant to shape every person’s life, you look for ways to fill the void,” Tripp wrote.
He added that the awe and wonder we experience in the enjoyment of creation should draw us to the Creator. If it doesn’t, we will either grow dull or look for the “buzz of wonder” in things that can never satisfy.
Author Anne Lamott said when her son Sam was about 6 he explained to her why we call God “God.” Sam said, “Because when you see something great you just go, ‘God!’”
Truly, it’s as simple as that.
You see the multi-pastel sherbet shades of dawn and you go, “God!”
A hawk swoops through the sky; a fish flies out of the water, does a flip and splashes back into the lake or river all before you can blink. A baby stares at you and then smiles with her entire body. An ocean wave crashes on the rocks as the sun beats down on your head and thaws the coldest part of your soul until you just go, “God!”
That’s awe. That’s wonder. That’s worship and that’s what we were created for.
Often you gasp. Sometimes you cry. When it’s great, too great for words, you just go, “God!”
Horowitz told the woman interviewing her that she still walks the same route, but she walks it differently now. She walks intentionally, one day setting out to notice a specific color or to pay attention to lettering on signs or to whatever is at knee height.
When I heard that, my heart stirred — I want to live intentionally, too. I want to see everything God wants me to see, to experience wonder and awe, to just go “God!”
I want to live an awe-full life, and I want that for you, too.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.