We Need Awe

pink, purple, gold sunset over Clear Lake at Wesley WoodsBy Rev. David Berkey, Executive Director

In this season of Epiphany, we look for epiphanies — instant discoveries that give us a new insight or powerful feeling, the manifestation of God in our world — a spiritual moment of “awe.”

Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, describes awe as “the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world.” In his book, Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life, Dr. Keltner shares a scientific explanation for what happens when we experience awe, and that research shows it is a different phenomenon from feelings of joy, contentment or fear. It gets us out of our heads and helps us “realize our place in the larger context.”

Awe mostly catches us by surprise, yet we can help it along through paying attention, practicing mindfulness, moving out of the secure familiar place toward something new, challenging and unexpected.

Orange sunrise over Lake Huron with the cross silhouetted at Lake Huron Retreat Center.

Many retreat guests rise early to spend time solitude with God and catch moments of awe in the sunrise.

Children of all ages and races join hands with each other and adult counselors on the sand near the shore of Lake Michigan and Lake Michigan Camp & Retreat.

Summer campers at Lake Michigan Camp & Retreat close their week with a friendship and prayer circle.

I am sure almost everyone has experienced awe at some point in their lives. It often happens in nature, God’s creation, or in a special human connection with another or in community. Think about those times – your recollection can bring you back from loneliness, frustration, despair or doubt. Those moments can connect you with your identity as a child of a God who is alive and amazing and with us now.

Our campers and retreat guests often come seeking awe. They get up early for a sunrise at Lake Huron Retreat Center. They gather at dusk for the most amazing sunsets at Lake Michigan Camp & Retreat. They sit in stillness overlooking Clear Lake at Wesley Woods or walk in the forest amongst the trees and woodland critters.

Other times it surprises us. Like finding deer in the woods or noticing how the sand dunes are etched and changed by wind and time. God is present always, but witnessing moments of awe reminds us that we are part of God’s creation and God wants us to connect with that.

A fawn peeks out from the green brush in the woods at Wesley Woods Camp & Retreat Center

You never know when you might catch glimpses of God’s creation and catch your breath with awe and wonder. Fawn in the woods at Welsey Woods.

Come to summer camp or go on a retreat, where awe seems to happen regularly. Fill your internal memory banks with a big deposit of awe. Walk out into nature, gaze at the sky or into a child’s eyes. This Epiphany, I wish you awe!