Can I develop the capacity for reverence?


My last two blog posts dealt with reverence and then discipline.  One might ask – how are these two related?  I believe that a person can mature his concept and practice of reverence through discipline.

Paul Woodruff defines reverence as “the well-developed capacity to have feelings of awe, respect, and shame when these are the right feelings to have.”  He implies that reverence is a capacity, something that we can grow or shrink, based on our upbringing, culture, and personality.  Thus, we can deliberately improve our capacity for reverence through the deliberate and intentional training and exercise.

This is where discipline comes in.  We each can develop our sense of awe for the world around us.  There is much to be amazed at in our world.  So many things that are bigger than the small role that each individual human plays.  There is a grand scheme.  It may not be so easy to see in the hustle and bustle of modern, social-media driven society, but it is out there.  We should be in awe at the solid and massive beauty of 14,000 foot mountains, or how no two snowflakes are the same, or the immensity of the Pacific Ocean.   We can grow to appreciate these things, even though wen can never truly understand them.

In addition to awe at the world that we cannot grasp or control, we also can develop respect.  We can be in awe of the simplicity and yet complexity of our new-born baby as we cradle him in our arms.  We hope that someday he will grow into a man that people will respect, and more importantly, that he will be a man that demonstrates respect towards others and his world.   We must teach this boy why respect is so important.  Through our respect of the people and things in our lives, this boy develops his own sense of respect.  By studying and learning from great minds in the past, such as the Founding Fathers of America, he begins to realize that there are people and concepts that are greater than himself that deserve his respect – such as freedom and justice.

The third aspect of Woodruff’s definition is shame.  Shame is a very powerful feeling.  It is a useful feeling.  It is a feeling that God created in man for a purpose.  We are not a flawless people, but rather we make mistakes daily – some big, some small.  We say the wrong things – sometimes are words are hurtful.  We neglect that which is important.  We communicate poorly.  We disobey true and just laws.

When we develop a healthy appreciation for our limitations as humans, then we begin to understand and demonstrate reverence.  Shame is part of reverence.  It originates from understanding that there are “absolutes” that are above our individual freedom and autonomy.  It is an understanding that there are limits to human knowledge and power.  Shame recognizes our limitations as humans, and in appropriate measure, causes us to feel poorly.  These negative feelings are no excuse for continuing to behave poorly, but rather should motivate us to press on, learn from our shortcomings, and start anew on a better path.

It takes a healthy understanding of one’s limitations and even frailty as a human to begin to embrace reverence.  I agree with Woodruff in that one does not need to be religious to have a capacity for reverence.  However, I do believe that true, solid, and wholesome reverence should have an ultimate object to be reverent towards.    We have a Creator who made the heavens and the earth and all we see and all that ever was.  We should be in awe of all He has done.  We each have disobeyed and fallen short of what God had intended for us.  We need shame (in conjunction with reverence) to draw us back to the Father-Creator.  We have a Savior who restored the broken relationship with the Father-Creator.  He deserves our respect.

These are the components of reverence.  They are a part of what makes us human.  We need reverence.  It can be grown and developed, if we are intentional.

What do you think about the relationship between discipline and reverence? Can reverence be developed? Should it be? Does one need to be religious to be reverent?

About John Forrest