Forfeit your sense of awe, let your conceit diminish your ability to revere, and the world becomes a market place for you. The loss of awe is the avoidance of insight. A return to reverence is the first prerequisite for a revival of wisdom, for the discovery of the world as an allusion to God. Abraham Joshua Heschel, Who Is Man?

As my dear friend, E, and I made our way into the Innisfree Gardens, we turned onto the trail by the pond. The path led under an arching wisteria. The vines hung just low enough that we had to bow our heads.

You may have had this experience – that a simple physical act calls forth a deeper response. It struck me, just after we passed through to the other side of the vines, how rarely do we bow, to or for, anything.

Bowing can be an act of reverence. It is a physical manifestation of an inward attitude – that of respect. And, as some definitions hold, it is a respect that is tinged with awe.

Bowing is common in some cultures and contexts. For those who practice yoga, the gesture, with a spoken “Namaste”, may be a familiar one. In an article from the Yoga Journal, by Aadil Palkhivala (, two quotes stand out for me.

In the opening sentence, the author explains that the gesture “…represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us.”

Later in this article, he writes, “…Bowing the head and closing the eyes helps the mind surrender to the Divine in the heart.” 

As E and I ambled along, we spoke about reverence – it’s meaning and presence (and, more frequently, absence) in daily life. We spoke about nature as a thin place; of having a transcendent experience, facilitated by reverent presence, in a garden such as this.

I recalled my 14-year-old self, sitting in the Vermont woods, and realizing, “this is God.” It was not something I concluded after a long examination of evidence. It just arrived.

I know, now, that the woods, beautiful as they are, are not “God”. I do not worship the trees. However, I do see the natural world as godly – meaning, imbued with the “divine spark” of which Aadil Palkhivala writes.

Thanks to the string theory of physics, there may be a scientific way to express this concept – that there are common vibrating elements, or “strings”, that all things share. If this is true, then how wise the yogis are to bow. They are acknowledging what science is now stating, though perhaps in different terms. We all share a common essence.

Wisdom is not gained by knowing what is right. Wisdom is gained by practicing what is right, and noticing what happens when that practice succeeds and when it fails.” – Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith

The practice of bowing. How might it be to bow, physically, or at least in our minds or hearts…

…To a loved one?

…A stranger?

…To a tree or to the sky?

To bow, outwardly or inwardly, as a way to say:

“We share the same essence. I revere, and surrender to, the life force which is greater than I”.

Practicing reverence, by bowing or other means, might bring the world into balance. Perhaps it would ease our demands that people, circumstances, and nature bow to us.


About Soul Intention

"Spirituality is, ultimately, about what we do with...desire. What we do with our longings, both in terms of handling the pain and the hope they bring us, that is our spirituality." from The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser. Paraphrasing what Gerald May has said, in his book Will and Spirit, spirituality is our experience and interpretation of our relationship with the Sacred. The intent of this blog is to explore for myself, and to invite others to explore with me, just what is it we do with our desire? What is our spirituality? Mine has been shaped by many my formative years, by the Roman Catholic church. In the last decade, by the 12 steps. Most recently, by the Episcopal Church. And, always, always, by the sense that Nature helped to reveal the Great Mystery, of which we are all a part. So, my spirituality includes concrete practices, like the Steps, as well as probing more philosophical matters. I was certified, in January 2011, as a Spiritual Director by the Haden Institute. During those 21 months of study, which included a broad range of topics from Celtic Spirituality, to the Christian Mystics, to Jungian Depth psychology, I was given the space and time to ponder my own spiritual journey, hear about others' paths, and benefit from participation in an intentional community. My hope is that this blog can engender a similar conversation. Peace, Paul
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