In our previous CCEC on faith formation, we referenced a comprehensive study on religion and family* which concluded that having high standards combined with warmth is crucial to passing on one’s faith. We observed that having high standards sometimes requires us to speak with vocabulary that differs from the world’s. In that post, we looked at the un-worldly word “holiness.” In this post, we look at “reverence.”
Reverence is not a commonly used word nor a commonly pursued posture. Various dictionaries define reverence as “a feeling of great respect or admiration for someone or something.” Some include “a gesture of respect (such as a bow).” The verb, revere, not surprisingly, is “to regard or treat with reverence.” An important part of faith formation is cultivating such habits and feelings of reverence where they are due.
Reverence is due first of all toward God, the holy creator and sustainer of all. Scripture is filled with examples. In the presence of the burning bush, Moses was told, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” Isaiah and John wrote of six-winged seraphim and ten thousand times ten thousand angels encircling the throne and unceasingly declaring “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come,” “the earth is full of his glory”, and “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” A life of faith involves this posture of reverence. As our former language arts teacher was fond of saying, true education begins with the recognition that there is a God, and you are not He.
Reverence is also due the image bearers of that same God. In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis makes clear the implication of being made in God’s image: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.” What would our relationships look like if we took that seriously? Respect and even admiration are due your classmate, your co-worker, your neighbor whose political sign irritates you.
Another form of reverence, perhaps better called “wonder,” is also the appropriate posture for stewards of God’s creation. God placed Adam and Eve in the garden to “tend and care” for it. We have inherited that responsibility. To truly tend and care for something requires respect and admiration; it involves delight and wonder. In the words of the Psalmist, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” A faith-filled life exhibits an ever-increasing capacity to stand in wonder and to care for God’s handiwork.
Since the fall, human beings have suffered a deficit of reverence. How can we regain it? The Psalmist gives us a clear answer: “Be still and know that I am God.” Stillness. More than ever, we need to learn to be still and to be quiet. These habits are prerequisites to really seeing, hearing, and revering God, our neighbor, and God’s creation. One way Trinitas seeks to cultivate a still and reverent way of life is by offering an intentionally low-tech educational environment. While screens have their benefits in the proper context, it is becoming increasingly clear that they are undermining our capacity to be still, to notice, to listen, and to respond in reverence. We hope to give children a sense of freedom that comes from full school days away from screens. Looking for ways to build screen-free time in our homes is crucial too.** Our worship grant has re-focused our attention on opportunities for reverence, and singing the Psalms together at our June Beauty and Worship Event was a welcome and refreshing experience of the feelings of reverence. Daily Morning Prayer and Sunday worship also provide words, songs, actions, and gestures of reverence. The recent annual backpacking trip gave our 7/8 class a time for reverence in the quiet and stillness along the dunes of Lake Michigan. Of course, it provided a lot of movement and conversation and song and laughter too, which brings us full-circle to the importance of warmth in faith formation.
The intimate connection of high standards and warmth can be seen in Christ himself—the God of the universe, the one who spoke the world into existence by his Word became a babe. The standard-giver himself took on humble human form because of love. Faith is best passed on in a community where the uncommon and high standards of holiness and reverence are founded in and surrounded by love and pleasant experiences. A Jewish tradition going back to the Middle Ages is to sweeten the learning of the Torah by giving children honey when it is read. (A Dutch version of this is the passing of peppermints during the church service.) The message we want to give our children is this: I love you. God loves you. We want something better for you. You are called to higher things. God will equip you and we will help.
In an upcoming post, we’ll look more deeply at how strong intergenerational relationships help to convey this message.
* Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations, Vern Bengston, with Norella M. Putney and Susan Harris (Oxford University Press)
** A helpful resource for “alternative ways to raise kids in a screen-dependent world” is Screen Strong.