A single event can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us. To live is to be slowly born.
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery
“Look it’s a rainbow!” my 5-year old daughter shouted from the backseat while pointing up. This image was so surreal that I got out of the car and sat on the ground to get the best picture. Amazing. Wondrous. Spectacular, I thought. Then I continued with my errands and forgot about it. An hour later, while carpooling my son’s friends to a field trip, I caught a glimpse of a reflection in a car window that reminded me to look up again. It was still there. That original sense of wonder captured my imagination once more. Later that night, Facebook was filled with pictures and speculation. Eclipse? Alien invasion? The news reasoned it was a halo caused by ice crystals refracting the sun at a 22-degree angle. It's a sign that rain is on the way. With the explanation, the mystery was gone.
On the same day, a writer friend of mine was talking about her book project and my book project and hoping that someday we might experience a “spiritual awakening.” She said it like it would be some big dramatic movie scene or at the very least a recognizable climax and resolution in her life story. The definition, cause and description of spiritual awakenings, synonymous with religious experiences, have been debated since the 18th century. Google the term and there are nearly eleven million takes on it. I particularly liked one description of it “being like going from a noun to a verb.”
Nearly a year after my year-long life experiment in which I tried to be more childlike, I would describe the experience like that glimpse of the sun. Is it some powerful cue-the-music-as-the-flock-of-birds-takes-flight place we arrive at or is it a journey filled with errands and carpooling and stoplights? Was my spiritual awakening a near-death experience that first prompted the experiment idea or was it the incredible coincidences that happened along the way? Could it be categorized as the twelve months I spent studying childlike virtues and looking inward or the healing crisis I experienced when the experiment officially ended? Can it be all those things? Can it ever be fully defined without losing the mystery?
For me, it’s about remembering to look up. It's about being in awe of who we are, aw-are, and then completely forgetting as soon as we look away. It is squinting because the brilliance is too much for our earthly eyes to take in all at once.
How would you describe a spiritual awakening?