It’s a wonderfully onomatopoeticword: whoosh.
In their new book, “All Things Shining,” University of California’s Hubert Dreyfus and Harvard’s Sean Dorrance Kelly use it to represent the random, temporary moments of awe we encounter. And it’s their position that these moments are the defining reality of the contemporary human experience.
The authors claim such whooshing – whether shared communally at a sporting event or alone on a walk through the woods - is the only “real” experience a person can have. Further, as David Brooks put it in a recent New York Times opinion piece, “Dreyfus and Kelly say that we should have the courage not to look for some unitary, totalistic explanation for the universe. Instead, we should live perceptively at the surface, receptive to the moments of transcendent whooshes.”
That sounds awful. Understood this way, whooshing is in opposition to the Abrahamic religions in general and Christianity in particular, which see things as part of a larger cosmic story. Looking for one big plan in this way, the authors contend, will actually make you less receptive to the world’s random awesomeness.
For me, though, whooshing and spirituality are perfectly compatible. When I whoosh – be it from a revelatory movie or a harmonious evening with family and friends – I get glimpses of what God’s restored world will look like. In “Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense,” N.T. Wright wrote about these glimpses. Of beauty (one of those things that can make us whoosh), he says, “The world is full of beauty, but the beauty is incomplete… Beauty points away from the present world to a different one altogether.”
This sort of whooshing, it’s worth noting, is distinct from the ecstatic group worship one might experience in church. In a recent Today devotional entitled “Lost in God?” Norm Prenger wrote about being wary of pursuing ecstasy in worship. Instead, he encourages discipline and focus – an acknowledgement that faith is a journey, not a series of intermittent highs.
“Life becomes a meaningful adventure, a race, a journey filled with awareness of God’s love for us all,” Prenger wrote. “Don’t get lost in your religion. Get found.”
Combining these two concepts – Dreyfus and Kelly’s pursuit of the awesome and Prenger’s emphasis on an awareness of God’s love – seems like a reasonable endeavor to me. It allows for ecstatic appreciation of this world in the context of God’s redemptive story. Think of it as a spiritually responsible way to whoosh.
Photo illustration courtesy of Scott Chan.