It’s a beautiful word. Reverence, a blend of deep fondness and admiration. It’s a warmer, friendlier word than awe, which suggests amazement and even outright fear. They’re powerful feelings this time of year, as we get to watch the cosmic drama of the Solstice unfold in all its merciless beauty. Winter is awe-inspiring, as is the sun’s return.
This isn’t meant as a takedown of any spiritual path—far from it. The great wisdom traditions and creeds of this planet can be guideposts to a well-lived life, especially when you consider that so many of them share some variation of what Christians call the Golden Rule, the wisdom of which also dawns on a great many secular folk. It’s common sense and cellular-level wisdom, both, which is why people who don’t acknowledge or practice it tend to feel empty. It’s our common denominator.
That common core has been completely disregarded by control freaks throughout history who have sought to monopolize and weaponize reverence and awe by insisting that two major wellsprings of reverence and awe—sex and death—can only be understood from a place of fear and can only be approached by following their rules.
The idea that we must fear That which creates us, in all our multiplied glory as people and plants and puppies and clouds and water buffalo and gemstones, is the biggest scam ever perpetrated on the majority of an entire species ever. Basing moral and spiritual life around fear robs human beings of a decent shot at getting to know themselves, much less one another; anyone sold the idea that we are born in some kind of state of indecency that needs to be corrected has been victimized by the worst kind of identity theft.
Because the All That Is presumably would’ve had infinite options at their disposal, would they not? True, the starter kit was apparently made up of single-celled organisms, but the Big One wanted it to be a lot more fun than that and sexual reproduction came into the picture. To say that this is somehow where it all went awry seems deeply blasphemous.
Who is anybody to tell Them They made a big mistake with the very conduit of fresh creation Itself? Because the process involved is also some of the best fun one can possibly have while living in a human body? Good grief, call the Manager. No, wait, just tell the individuals involved that if they don’t root out and destroy the notion that mutual physical pleasure is fun, they’ll be thrown into some eternally painful lake of fire. Um. Humans made that stuff up.
The moral issue that applies is that same old Golden Rule thing—don’t hurt anyone, also known as consent—and it’s gotten a bit lost, first in countless generations of shame, then in the noisy arguments and backlash before the freedom promised by the “sexual revolution” even wriggled out of its chrysalis to dry its wings. Turns out a species doesn’t shed countless generations of shame overnight, but there are signs of progress.
Death’s another thing that affects us one and all. (Even if you’re committed to asexuality and celibacy, you got here somehow.) It’s always felt mysterious that our bodies end, and humans have been trying forever to come to terms with it, which has left us quite vulnerable to anyone claiming to have The Answers. Weaponizing the fear of pain and death has worked well for control freaks throughout time and, ironically enough, led to loads of needless pain and premature death.
What if we don’t really need to know right now? My mother always said that she didn’t know where she’d been before arriving here and had no idea where she was headed after, but that she had no reason to be frightened either. Beyond that, there’s a basic scientific consensus that energy is never truly created or destroyed, which would seem to include the energy that infuses our minds and bodies in the state we call “alive.”
Only by resisting and defusing the fear we’ve been taught to feel around sex and death can we begin to feel genuine reverence. Rebels and creatives have been questioning the fear paradigm forever, and greater numbers have been following that lead and refusing to buy in for a few generations now, which drives the God-fearing types absolutely crazier than they already were. Greed-heads dread losing control and they’re quick to blame the pleasure-seeking side of human nature, when it’s the fear that’s the problem. It’s the fear that leads to a scarcity mindset, objectification and bullying, to acting out and addiction. It’s the lack of reverence that keeps the conversation from transcending the exploitative level of porno and slasher movies.
People who have been welcomed into this world with genuine reverence, or found their way to it afterwards, don’t need to carry on that way. Too many never get there; it was just a few generations ago that parents were warned that affection spoiled babies. Once the control freaks steal your reverence and awe, you become easy prey. We need those feelings so badly that we’ll try all sorts of ways to fill the space where they belong, leading to the mass marketing of objectified lust and violence. They’ll sell us junk that subconsciously promises a closer connection to sex and/or death, but without genuine reverence and awe, the merchandise fails to satisfy and we crave another hit. How convenient.
What if we just reclaim reverence and awe as part of the public commons? We’re surrounded by sights and sounds and experiences worthy of either or both. Babies and people who love them. Sunrises, sunsets. Mountains and rivers. People who share. Wild facts about our world being discovered every day: Black holes produce brilliant light. Octopi can think with their tentacles. Music. Art. Good food. Your own heartbeat; the eyes that read these words.
Reverence is our birthright; let’s not let anybody tell us when we can apply it—let’s pour it all over ourselves and one another and everyday life, and see how that works out.