Winter Meditation #6 – Aw(e)ful?

Today’s quote is one that I have read and reread. The word Awful has a certain connotation to those who speak the English language, and yet, if you break down the word, doesn’t it mean full of Awe? Isn’t Awe a good thing? How did the word Awful became distorted to mean something terrible, even disastrous?

In fact, when I check the dictionary, I find that the second and third meanings of Awful are ‘commanding awe’ and ‘full of awe’. Yet somehow, the number one meaning is ‘extremely bad or unpleasant.’ 

Here’s what Henry David Thoreau said in “Ktaadn”:

“Nature was here something savage and awful, though beautiful . . . Here was no man’s garden, but the unhandselled globe. It was not lawn, nor pasture, nor waste land. It was the fresh and natural surface of the planet Earth, as it was made forever and ever . . . It was Matter, vast, terrific . . . the home, this, of Necessity and Fate. There was clearly felt the presence of a force not bound to be kind to man . . . We walked over it with a certain awe.”

Have you been to places where you ‘walked over it with awe’? Where the mark of human’s was unseen? Where you could experience the full impact of a place unchanged over many thousands of years, except by the hands of Nature – the wind and water and fire which forged our planet?

If you’ve visited the National Parks, perhaps you have. If you’ve traveled to the coasts or the mountains or the forests or the great grasslands
, perhaps you have felt awe.

In those places, I have felt the awe, felt the realization of my insignificance, felt the power of Nature.

If you’ve been the victim of a natural disaster, you have felt the awe and the awfulness together. The devastation wrought so quickly. Swiftly, such disasters remind us that Nature can be a force not required to be kind to humankind, or any other living creature.

Thoreau also uses the phrase “though beautiful” – and I consider how true that is. I am struck by the beauty, and often speak of it in this blog. Once again, there is a duality. Good and evil, darkness and light, savagery and beauty. It is the world we live in. It is the ‘nature’ of life.

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