Spanish shooting stars, and the universal birthright of reverence

Mysterium tremendum et fascinans

Latin; meaning an experience of trembling fear and awe. Associated with German theologian & philosopher Rudolf Otto.

The first time I can remember experiencing a sense of reverence, I was probably younger than ten.

For many years of my childhood, my family spent our summer holidays in Spain. We stayed with my beloved Nanny Jill – one of the most caring, smart and independent woman I’ve ever known. Back then she lived up in the hills in the province of Valencia, in a series of rustic but beautiful villas, and she insisted we come to her because we couldn’t afford trips abroad at the time.

All my memories of those trips are precious to me: afternoons spent annoying Nanny Jill’s coterie of adopted stray cats and dogs (there were dozens of them). Wolfing down the seemingly endless quantities of delicious, fresh food. Hunting for fallen carob beans to stuff into sacks to sell at the market to be turned into chocolate. Watching my elegant, silver-haired English grandmother making furious obscene hand gestures at a man for shooting a gun into the air to scare off birds from the trees outside his restaurant (the gun shots were messing with her pacemaker).

But some of the memories of those trips stand out as uniquely sacred.

During those hot days and dark-as-pitch nights, amidst the red hills blanketed with sticky-smelling pine trees, I experienced perhaps for the first time a sense of reverence.

Sitting on the verandah when everyone else was taking an afternoon siesta, the screech of the cicadas and the mountains and the shimmering air made the entire world feel like a living, breathing thing.

Lying by the pool at night after dinner, one leg dangled in the water, chatting to my brother and seeing shooting stars for the very first time.

I still remember the awe I felt in these moments. The sense of something bigger than me, which I couldn’t yet name.

People who are not particularly religious often say the closest they can imagine to a sense of worshipful awe has been on a mountaintop, or watching a spectacular sunrise.

I grew up in the suburbs and as a family we weren’t massive nature seekers, yet it was the beauty and enormity of nature which first instilled a sense of wonder in me. Now as an adult, I spend as much time as I can in wild spaces.

I’d like to invite you to consider moments in your life which have drawn awe & wonder from out of you. It doesn’t really matter what inspired it.

What is important is that, regardless of your spiritual beliefs or experience, awe and reverence, a sense of sudden frightening connectedness with all things, is a birthright of our humanity. You do not need to be able to explain or categorise them. They are holy entirely by their own virtue.

Seek those moments. As writer Cheryl Strayed’s mother instructed her so wisely, ‘put yourself in the way of beauty’.

Inspired by World Environment Day. Dedicated to my Nanny Jill. Thank you Mike Anderson and Unsplash for this beautiful image of sunrise over Spanish mountains.

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