The Overview Effect
BY BRENNA DAVIS | October 14, 2019
Astronauts have reported feeling an unexpected shift in consciousness and a sense of deep interconnection with the planet and humanity upon viewing the Earth from outer space. This is known as the overview effect. This experience is desperately needed in our world today, a world in which the beauty and preciousness of the planet and the people on it are often ignored. While most of us will not have the opportunity to see the planet from space, we can and do have “overview effect” moments in our lives, and today’s gospel invites us to radically re-imagine how we experience and express gratitude for them.
The nine healed lepers who didn’t return to thank Jesus were probably internally grateful. I imagine many of them immediately ran to estranged family members and friends, from whom they had been physically separated for years, to embrace them and to celebrate their restored health. They didn’t mean to forget to say thanks; however, only one person remembered to praise God for the generous gift.
Where do you see yourself in this story? Often, I admit, I am one of the nine who thinks, “This is awesome!” and then just keeps it moving; however, there is a danger inherent in not taking time to honor the small and large miracles—to allow ourselves an “overview effect” moment of awe—in our lives.
When we allow ourselves to experience awe, it is impossible to ignore the dignity inherent in the world around us. The smallest flower to the largest mammal are miraculous gifts when viewed from space. Each individual person, who also experiences moments of awe like us, despite their nationality, race, citizenship status, sexual orientation, or gender identity, is a miracle just by existing.
I don’t think Jesus is upset with the nine because they don’t return to praise him, but rather, he knows that when we don’t pause to express gratitude for moments of awe, we risk becoming indifferent to a deep genuine sense of solidarity with other people and the Earth.
How is God inviting you to pause to experience the “overview effect”—moments of awe in small and large ways in your life and as you work for justice each day?
Brenna Davis is director of Education for Justice and environmental initiatives for the Ignatian Solidarity Network. She graduated from Boston College in 2010 and served in Cleveland as a Jesuit Volunteer. She previously taught theology, coached cross country, and served as main office coordinator at Saint Martin de Porres, Cleveland’s Cristo Rey High School. During her time there she was the self-proclaimed assistant to the director of facilities in all sustainability initiatives on campus. She is a certified spiritual director and a Cuyahoga County Master Recycler.
The call to experience awe and wonder at God’s creation happens when I’m out in nature. I took a long walk in City Park, New Orleans yesterday and experienced God’s presence in everything. The water, the trees, the ducks, and the people. I realized that I am part of creation, no separation, unity in and with everything and everyone.
This experience carries me forward into works of charity and love for the earth. Being present in my relationships with food, water, energy and everything I come in contact. I am led to change my habits from tendencies of the industrial period to transforming my life to living a new life of sustainability, in Christ through the power of The Holy Spirit to the glory of God our Creator.
#sustainislandhome.org or werenew.net
Leprosy brings about numbness. Numbness expressed through thoughts, words or deeds is never the right ingredient for world building.