Reverence – a feeling of deep respect tinged with awe. This is the feeling I get when I stand and look up at the Sawtooth Mountains or when I hear singing so pure it gives me goosebumps. It’s the feeling I get when I set out my Christmas decorations and go through the ceremony of carefully unwrapping each ornament and bobble. For me, regardless of what leads me to feel reverence, it is always stemmed in the knowledge of something greater than myself. Nature is vast, and this year more than many others, has shown how powerful she is and how limited we are. The excellence of a voice powerful enough to make me tingle is something to behold. Christmas decorations always make me feel grounded. The ceremony of remembering the little things, creating a comfortable and warm haven for my family and loved ones, stirs a deep sense of reverence in me. I think it’s the thing that helps me stay grounded in what can easily become a hectic and overwhelming time of year.
Why is reverence so important to us as a society and so much so this time of year? Paul Woodruff says in his book Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue “We feel awe for what we believe is above us all as human beings, and this feeling helps us to avoid treating other human beings with contempt”. He further says “A reverent soul listens to other people even when they are inferior; that is a large part of remembering that you are human together with them” (Woodruff, p. 83).
We often associate reverence with religion, and certainly the deference to God as being greater than ourselves and something which forces us to humble ourselves does evoke the feelings of reverence. But reverence is a feeling of its own.
Lately it has been easy for people to forget that we all are human and that there are things greater than us. We argue and yell over political parties and who we love and what we think is right, and hate and vitriol spill from us like water from a spring. Then, a hurricane hits, and we come together to help fellow humans. Our reverence for that act of nature reminds us we are all in this together, and it brings a cease fire. So how do we find reverence and practice reverence?
Nature is where I like to start. I like to get up early, no matter the cold or snow, and get outside for a while. It is hard to watch a Great Horned owl glide silently past on a full moon and not feel reverent. It is hard to look up at clear, cloudless sky, and see billions of stars and not feel reverence. I seek nature year round but even more so when I feel pressured or stressed. It reminds me of the insignificance of daily trials.
Ceremony. I love ceremony this time of year. I think this feeling in me comes from a childhood spent in the Catholic Church but has remained because of my reverence for the act of ceremonies, and not just a mindless habit of doing things a certain way. One of my favorite ceremonies at Christmas time is the Advent calendar. I get excited every morning to watch my children wake up sleepy and count down another day until Christmas. Ceremonies can be powerful and can bring people together into a community. They remind us we are not alone, we have like minded humans all around us, and this community at least is bigger than self.
I mentioned music earlier. While not in the least bit musical myself, I have so much respect for people that can take notes or notes and lyrics and turn them into something beautiful and powerful. Hearing the reverence the musicians must have for the music to make it sound like they do is awe inspiring.
The virtue of reverence is powerful. The lack of it is devastating, for if we forget that we are human together it is easier to treat each other with contempt. Show reverence to your children, your parents, your students, your teachers. Show reverence for life, for human worth. Embrace it. I think it will make your holiday season happier and more enjoyable. I know it will do more for you than the mall will.
“Let parents bequeath to their children not riches, but the spirit of reverence.” Plato