Aquinas on Awe and the Expansion of Consciousness

Aquinas did know one very important dimension to the universe that modern peoples have easily forgotten—namely, that the facts of our home, the universe, are only part of the story.

Dazzlement, awe and wonder. Photo by Fuu J on Unsplash

The other part is our response to that news—our excitement, awe, wonder, and gratitude.  We have a right to get drunk on the realization that we, contrary to all odds, exist at all. As Heschel puts it:

The existence of the world is the most unlikely, the most unbelievable fact. . . . the existence of the universe is contrary to all reasonable expectations.

Consider Eckhart: “Isness is God.”  Existence anywhere, isness anywhere, is a godly surprise.

Knowledge is not enough. Facts are not enough. The poet Mary Oliver exclaims, “I want to be dazzled.” Being dazzled is about being drunk, inebriated, out of the box of the rational and the factual, being touched at a deep place of wonder and awe. Awe expands consciousness.

What is awe?  Rabbi Heschel says that awe

Photographer Camille Seaman has been chasing storms for 5 years. In this TED talk she shows stunning, surreal photos of the heavens in tumult.

enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine. . . . What we cannot comprehend by analysis we become aware of in awe.

 No wonder “awe is the beginning of wisdom.” Aquinas also links awe and wisdom:

One meditates on creation in order to view and marvel at divine wisdom. . . . Indeed, divine wisdom first appears in the creation of things.

Both the poet and the philosopher begin with “amazement” for “wonder causes inquiry.”

Hildegard of Bingen, “Tending the Tree of Life.” Book of Divine Works

Aquinas alerts us to the truth that

…the most excellent thing in the universe is not the human—the most excellent thing in the universe is the universe itself.

In calling us back to the wonder and ecstasy of the universe, Aquinas offers us medicine for the rupture of psyche and spirit that haunts modern men and women and opens the door to anthropocentrism, destruction of the planet, and what Pope Francis rightly calls our narcissism as a species.  Premodern consciousness found among indigenous peoples everywhere, but also medieval thinkers such as Hildegard of Bingen, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, Eckhart, refuses to put humans on a pedestal but imagine us within the entire web of life.

In Aquinas’s language, as in today’s science, the web of life is called interconnectivity:

Students from WWF International Universities and Colleges plant a tree in the Raja Musa Forest Reserve, Selangor, Malaysia, during a trip to experience ecosystem interdependence and the importance of rehabilitating, protecting and managing the mangroves and rainforests. Photo by FEE International on Flickr.

That all things are related to each other is evident from the fact that all are interconnected together to one end…The perfection of any one thing considered in isolation is an imperfection, for one thing is merely one part of the entire integrity of the universe arising from the assembling together of many singular perfections.

Not modern individualism, but Community, the kinship of all beings making up one beautiful whole is the bottom line. Moreover, “All things are connected in a common bond of friendship with all nature.”  Aquinas tells us that “love and also zeal are caused in us from beauty and goodness.” Objects of zeal are “intensely lovable.”  Beauty is the elixir that accompanies awe.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, pp. 10-12. 

And from Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversation with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, pp. 78, 101, 90-93, 114f.  124. 

Banner Image: “Mother I feel you under my feet, Mother I hear your heartbeat.” Photo by Balu Gáspár on Unsplash.

Do you stand with Mary Oliver—do you too “want to be dazzled” and to live a life of meaning and wonder as well as one of facts?  Can you feel your awe and consciousness expanding daily?

The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times

A stunning spiritual handbook drawn from the substantive teachings of Aquinas’ mystical/prophetic genius, offering a sublime roadmap for spirituality and action.
Foreword by Ilia Delio.
“What a wonderful book!  Only Matt Fox could bring to life the wisdom and brilliance of Aquinas with so much creativity. The Tao of Thomas Aquinas is a masterpiece.”
–Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox renders Thomas Aquinas accessible by interviewing him and thus descholasticizing him.  He also translated many of his works such as Biblical commentaries never before in English (or Italian or German of French).  He  gives Aquinas a forum so that he can be heard in our own time. He presents Thomas Aquinas entirely in his own words, but in a form designed to allow late 20th-century minds and hearts to hear him in a fresh way. 
“The teaching of Aquinas comes through will a fullness and an insight that has never been present in English before and [with] a vital message for the world today.” ~ Fr. Bede Griffiths (Afterword).
Foreword by Rupert Sheldrake

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3 thoughts on “Aquinas on Awe and the Expansion of Consciousness”

  1. Avatar

    One poem has guided my life. As I have gotten older, it is harder to stay up or get up at all hours, but I keep trying. I keep doing what I can. The poem is Summons by Robert Francis.

    Keep me from going to sleep too soon
    Or if I go to sleep too soon
    Come wake me up. Come any hour
    Of night. Come whistling up the road.
    Stomp on the porch. Bang on the door.
    Make me get out of bed and come
    And let you in and light a light.
    Tell me the northern lights are on
    And make me look. Or tell me clouds
    Are doing something to the moon
    They never did before, and show me.
    See that I see. Talk to me till
    I’m half as wide awake as you
    And start to dress wondering why
    I ever went to bed at all.
    Tell me the walking is superb.
    Not only tell me but persuade me.
    You know I’m not too hard persuaded.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Michele, Thank you for sharing Robert Francis’ poem with us. I too keep trying to get up at all hours… I have to for the part I play in the Daily Meditations…

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