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Powered by awe

Watching a sunrise

Experiencing awe transforms your life, says Rev. David Berkey, and one way many people find it is by spending time at a Michigan camp or retreat center.

Executive Director, Michigan Area United Methodist Camping

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.”

Campers hold hands during a prayer circle
Summer campers at Lake Michigan Camp & Retreat close their week with a friendship and prayer circle. ~ photo courtesy Michigan Area United Methodist Camping

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

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.

A fawn in the woods
You never know when you might catch glimpses of God’s creation and catch your breath with awe and wonder. A fawn stands in the woods at Wesley Woods. ~ photo courtesy Michigan Area United Methodist Camping

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 among 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.

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!

Last Updated on December 20, 2023

The Michigan Conference