8 Great Writers on Why Reverence Matters
Apr 14, 2016

5 minute read


Reverence. It's a word that has tumbled out of use and favor in today's world. And humanity has paid a high price for that loss. In this piece, eight writers, including Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver, speak up in voices that are lyrical, incisive, and urgent, drawing us back to the luminous heart of what it means to live reverently. 

So ... why does reverence matter?

Paul Woodruff: Because It Is A Forgotten Virtue

Power without reverence is aflame with arrogance, while service without reverence is smoldering toward rebellion. Politics without reverence is blind to the general good and deaf to advice from people who are powerless. (…) Because reverence fosters leadership and education. Most important, because reverence kindles warmth in friendship and family life. And because without reverence, things fall apart. People do not know how to respect each other and themselves. An army cannot tell the difference between what it is and a gang of bandits. Without reverence, we cannot explain why we should treat the natural world with respect. Without reverence, a house is not a home, a boss is not a leader, an instructor is not a teacher. Without reverence, we would not even know how to learn reverence. To teach reverence, you must find the seeds of reverence in each person and help them grow. 

Gary Zukav: Because It Protects Life

Reverence is a level of protection and honor about the process of life so while a person is maturing toward the journey and through the journey of authentic empowerment, he or she harms nothing. Because we have no reverence, our journey to empowerment often includes the experience of victimizing life. Therefore, there are victims and victimizers. The process of destroying Life while we are learning about Life that has characterized our evolution would cease, or at least would be very different if we approached Life with a quality of reverence. 

Joanna Macy: Because It Grounds Us In Interconnection

Spiritual exercises for cultivating reverence for life arise now out of many traditions and are welcomed by people regardless of their religious affiliation. I have found adaptations from Buddhist practices particularly helpful because they are grounded in the recognition of the dependent co-arising or deep ecology of all things. Similarly, Native American prayers and ritual forms, evoking our innate capacity to love and respect our Earth, are increasingly adapted and included in gatherings for work and worship. This is a prayer from the Laguna Pueblo people:"I add my breath to your breath that our days may be long on the Earth, that the days of our people may be long, that we shall be as one person, that we may finish our road together.” 

Wendell Berry: Because Our Future Depends On It

We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us. We have fulfilled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed the standard of our behavior toward the world - to the incalculable disadvantage of the world and every living thing in it. And now, perhaps very close to too late, our great error has become clear. It is not only our own creativity - our own capacity for life - that is stifled by our arrogant assumption; the creation itself is stifled.We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and to learn what is good for it. We must learn to cooperate in its processes, and to yield to its limits. But even more important, we must learn to acknowledge that the creation is full of mystery; we will never entirely understand it. We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of creation, and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it. 

Terry Tempest Williams: Because It Invites Us to Live at the Speed of Thoughtfulness

I watched prairie dogs every day, rise before the sun, stand with theirpaws pressed together facing th e rising sun in total stillness for up to 30 minutes, and then I watched them at the end of the day take that same gesture 30 minutes before the sun goes down they would press their palms together in perfect stillness. I don’t mean to anthropomorphize, but when you look at a creature that has survived over the millennium begin and end each day in that kind of stance, it causes one to think about one’s own life and speed and rapidity in which we live.”

Barry Lopez: Because It Keeps Technology In Its Place

Zeus said to Prometheus, "Okay, you stole fire. Great for you. Now your people have technology. Wonderful. But here's something you don't know. You lack two things. And if you don't take these two things that I will give you, this will be a failure. Technology, you know, fire, all your magic, it will fail completely. It will be your undoing. And the two things that you need to make it work are justice and reverence. And if you have these two things, you won't get in trouble with this third thing that you thought was the be all and the end all. 

John O'Donohue: Because It Unlocks Beauty In Our Lives

What you encounter, recognize or discover depends to a large degree on the quality of your approach. Many of the ancient cultures practiced careful rituals of approach. An encounter of depth and spirit was preceded by careful preparation. When we approach with reverence, great things decide to approach us. Our real life comes to the surface and its light awakens the concealed beauty in things. When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us. The rushed heart and arrogant mind lack the gentleness and patience to enter that embrace.

Mary Oliver: Because It Invites Us to Pay Attention

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak

1 Past Reflections