Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.
- Henry David Thoreau
What is Reverence?
Paul Woodruff, the Author of “Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue”, says,
“Simply put, reverence is the virtue that keeps human beings from trying to act
like gods.” Reverence implies a kind of humility in the face of both the profound
and the everyday. To approach something reverently is to do so with a sense of awe and deep appreciation."
Reverence does not imply religiosity. Woodruff continues, “It is a natural mistake
to think that reverence belongs to religion. It belongs, rather, to community…
Reverence lies behind civility and all of the graces that make life in society bearable and pleasant.”
How do I practice reverence?
Some reverential experiences are nearly universal. Think about the first time you encountered something as magnificent and awe-inspiring as the Grand Canyon or gazed into the blinking eyes of a new born child. In moments like these we sense something unspeakably profound that points to a reality that is bigger than ourselves.
Those who practice reverence gratefully acknowledge that they are not the centers of the universe and stand humbly before the majesty of creation and the great works of man that advance peace, beauty and happiness. To walk in reverence, as Thoreau suggests, is to walk alertly, gratefully and lovingly through both the shadows and the sunshine of human existence.
Methods, Exercises, Inquiries
Ceremonies and rituals can be rich opportunities to practice reverence. The
famous Japanese Tea Ceremony is an illustration of an ordinary activity carried out with extraordinary care and a reverential attention to detail. Likewise, in the West, attending a graduation ceremony is way that we honor not just the hard work of the graduates but education itself. By participating in these very different ceremonies individuals are practicing different forms of reverence.
Challenges and Commitments of Practice
Reverence does not come naturally in a culture that glorifies success and the myth of the “self-made man.” We are encouraged to be proud and boastful in everything from our careers to politics - even in our belief or disbelief. Reverence is a quiet and steady virtue and rarely “wins” a shouting match.
The practice of reverence makes demands of our attention which means taking time to be reverential. There is much in life that is truly miraculous and meaningful, how do we balance reverent attention with the simple demands of everyday life?
What is awe-inspiring can also be awful – and make us feel inconsequential or
irrelevant. One of the challenges posed by reverence is finding our connection to great things that we play a very small role in.