attention and reverence

[more from Barbara Brown Taylor]:

According to the classical philosopher Paul Woodruff, reverence is the virtue that keeps people from trying to act like gods. “To forget that you are only human,” he says, “to think you can act like a god – this is the opposite of reverence.” While most of us live in a culture that reveres money, reveres power, reveres education and religion, Woodruff argues that true reverence cannot be for anything that human beings can make or manage by ourselves.

By definition, he says, reverence is the recognition of something greater than the self – something that is beyond human creation or control, that transcends full human understanding. God certainly meets those criteria, but so do birth, death, sex, nature, truth, justice, wisdom. A Native American elder I know says that he begins teaching people reverence by steering them over to the nearest tree.

“Do you know that you didn’t make this tree?” he asks them. If they say yes, then he knows that they are on their way.

Reverence stands in awe of something – something that dwarfs the self, that allows human beings to sense the full extent of our limits – so that we can begin to see one another more reverently as well.

– Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World

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