On a New York street corner, Alexandra, 15, smoked a cigarette while talking to an interviewer: “There is a monotonous undertone of the entirety of life, you know? What is there to do? There’s nothing even to look at.”
Kids today are bored and passive, even with entertainment all around. They are, as one writer described them, “passion-impaired.” Christian school teachers have the antidote: being conveyors of awe. Awe is a practice, a skill that Christian schools ought to teach as rigorously as they do core subjects.
What do I mean by awe?
It is an evocation of wonder that is directed to God. It is an expression from our hearts and minds. It is a Spirit-given speed-bump that startles us to pay attention. It is a holy curiosity, a serendipity that bursts out in surprise or in a stillness that arrests our spiritual breathing. It’s an internal “Oh, my God” and then praise. Awe is all over the Bible. The Israelites at Sinai watch the mountain tremble and smoke and then head to their tents in awe. Four times in the early chapters of the Gospel of Mark it says of Jesus’ acts, “This amazed everyone and they praised God” (Mark 1:22).
Principals: Draw your teachers’ attention to this piece and ask them to each describe one time when they demonstrated awe to God.
Sometimes awe comes from noticing the fleeting: the light tipping the variety of peaks on the same mountain as time oozes past, or the sly smile on a child’s face who has dead-panned you for weeks, or the “hmmmm” slipping from a girl who just caught something for the first time. Other times it comes from analysis: students seeing the intricacies of veins in a frog or leaf or noticing the word play that evil is live spelled backwards. And not all awe is lovely. Seeing my dad putting his shirt on his legs and his pants on his arms led me to be awe-full at the dismantling of the mind that Alzheimer’s causes.
How can teachers teach awe?
- Tell what God has done in your life. Here’s the psalmist’s way of stating it: “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done” (Psalm 78:4). What has moved you? The best Christian schools have teachers who show awe daily.
- Shine light on God’s creation. One creed says creation is “God’s most elegant book” which “reveals the invisible things of God.” I saw a kindergarten teacher have kids put one finger at their lips and with the other hand squeeze their voice boxes a little. Then she asked them to say three times out loud these sounds in pairs: p/b, t/d, k/g, s/z, and f/v and asked them what they felt in pronouncing the sounds in each pair. Within seconds, a child said, “I felt air on my finger with the first sound and wiggles on my throat in the second sound.” The teacher directed the amazement to God: “Isn’t it neat that God arranged sounds like this so we could talk to him and each other?”
- Teach the usual from an odd angle. Teach the Civil War through Lincoln’s pardons. Observe frogs jumping off lily pads and not just through cutting them apart. Bring smut from a corn ear and make a metaphor.
- Show your kids what awes you. Here are a few of mine: butchering chickens and cows on our farm when I was a boy; noticing the differences in blossoms of apples, alfalfa, and dandelions; the sound of music in “Booth led boldly with his big bass drum”; worshiping the sun when I was young and now having repeated skin cancers removed.
- Play in your classes. Celebrate accomplishments and honor the work toward mastering a skill and then finally performing something beautiful. All of our sports and games have built-in difficulties; without these difficulties, we wouldn’t have enjoyment. Consider the gymnast who does backflips on a balance beam where physical effort and grace become one; we are thrilled—awed—at the achievement.
The Alexandras in New York and in our Christian schools need awe-filled teachers. The more awe-full they are, the more the kids will be singing the gospel song “Revelation 19”: “All praises be to the King of kings/ And the Lord our God/ he is wonderful.”
– Dan VanderArk, curriculum director, Northpointe Christian, Grand Rapids, MI