In his new book “Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How it Can Transform Your Life”, Professor Dacher Keltner describes the importance of “collective effervescence.”* If you have ever been to a major sporting event or concert you have experienced this moment when the crowd moves together with dancing or singing or chanting. Or maybe you were in church at eleven am last Sunday when Swope Parkway’s music director led us in a spontaneous chorus of a well-known spiritual song and the Spirit of God seemed to invade us with surprising joy. “Collective effervescence” seems to have taken its hold on Kansas City in the days leading up to the Superbowl. We realize that whether we are football fans or not, we are part of a city with great team spirit. “Kansas City” that’s us!
Professor Keltner recalls the theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, who often took a break from his weighty philosophical studies and prolific writing to just walk through the streets of the town and observe human life. He said it put him in contact with the significance of insignificant things! As I walk past the new park in my neighborhood and see the children squealing with delight, I can feel what Kierkegaard means. Keltner says that neuroscientists have now conducted studies that show our brains changing patterns as we experience life together with one another.
For me, this brain science reinforces the practices of our faith. We exist not only for ourselves but for one another. We come to life and know God through community. Or as Norman Wirzba says in “The Sacred Life”, “Humanity’s fundamental vocation is to bear witness to God’s love for creaturely life, and to commit to the construction of a hospitable and beautiful world.”
I love this! While each of us may have our own calling: little league coach, volunteer at a community garden, nurse, parent, tutor, pilot, architect, artist, pet owner, spouse, grandparent, manager…all of us can bear witness to God’s love for creaturely life. And all of us can commit time and energy, money and muscle to the construction of a hospitable and beautiful world.
I think in claiming this vocation we inevitably realize that we belong to one another, that we are part of a larger social fabric where the community comes to life. And we are agents of love – givers and receivers of the divine gift of God’s love.
Psalm 42 captures our longing “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” and then the Psalmist remembers being in a large group of people shouting and singing and remembers how “deep calls to deep.”
Grace and Peace,
* See “On Being with Kristen Tippett” Podcast | Feb 2, 2023 “Dacher Keltner, The Thrilling New Science of Awe”