The Rev. Dr. Seth Weeldreyer, First Presbyterian Church of Kalamazoo October 15, 2023 – 20th Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 65; Philippians 4:4-13

I felt part of something far bigger than myself. I was learning college knowledge—history, political science, education, math. Young adult angst and growing self-awareness pulsed inside, seeking place and purpose in the world. That’s when I’d go to the Lake Michigan beach. Not to lie back and bake in the sun. Rather when the sun set behind a bank of clouds casting full-spectrum rainbow hues on the underside, sweeping over me and all I could see. Or even more stirring as a storm moved in. Clouds darkening. Lightning flashing out over the water. Whitecaps rolling and crashing on the pier over my bare feet and ankles up to my knees. Angst, growing self-awareness, maybe not the wisest, smartest we may wonder!  Alone out there, I’d just yell into the wind buffeting my jacket. “I want to love!” Or something like that. Alone, yet yearning for deep connection with other people and all creation. In the moment it felt and in memory still seems something profoundly holy. Mystical. Visceral and mystery.

I wonder what arises in mind and heart when we’ve felt such awe; part of something far bigger than our selves alone. Rafting through the Grand Canyon, beside towering patterned cliffs, sleeping under stars. Kayaking in West Virginia on a long, narrow lake enfolded, embraced by mountains and sky above. Standing in a Greek Amphitheatre still well-preserved, acoustically alive, imagining the echo of others like them over thousands of years. Swept up in the flow of a New Year’s parade in Cambodia, ending with an astonishing Buddhist ritual—a bit disorienting, not quite afraid, sucked into a vortex of the moment. Examples they shared during our Wednesday prayer. If we composed a psalm in our own time, I wonder what images we’d sing. Maybe a full bright rainbow over the valley where we set out the first day on our Camino pilgrimage. Myriad other favorite places of natural beauty. Maybe the flow of a stirring musical moment—playing jazz, singing harmony, savoring a symphony. Ordinary human encounters that became radiant, transcending routine or expectations. Maybe something like first-year college students touring downtown, entering our sanctuary, swinging phones (click, click), mouths literally agape.

That’s how we might imagine the psalmist with a phone camera, captivated by awe in the cathedral of creation. Snapshots of human experience shot through with divinity as mystics have said. The psalmist opened the eyes of the heart and composed this poetic effusion of gratitude and wonder. All the earth something like our Pine Island garden furrows watered abundantly (like it rained yesterday) abounding in so many harvested vegetables falling out of the wagon that the wagon tracks themselves overflow {click}. Pastures with wild creatures and meadows with livestock overflowing {click}. Valleys decked out in row upon row of corn, wheat, and soybeans while the hills and forests adorn themselves with the color-spectrum spectacle of autumn. Mountains girded with might {click}, roaring seas with high rolling waves {click}, the tumult of human crowds on parade, in protest, raining fire from missiles and planes silenced in Holy Love {click}. And amid it all people’s prayer flowing—forgiveness, gratitude, joy, pleas and praise … the natural world and our human lives symbiotically entwining flourishing hopefully at best, flowing abundantly in grace. {click} The Psalmist feels symbiotically part of something far bigger than self. {click}{click}

I can’t even conceive of how much bigger than ourselves are the spans of space clicked through Hubble / Webb telescopes—signs of the Holy, if you ask me, to the farthest bounds of the universe. Here on earth, yesterday it was a “ring of fire solar eclipse” to which one observer responded: “It’s a kind of spiritual thing. I’m not a very spiritual person but these kinds of things really move me. I find it really beautiful.”[i] Or earlier this week it was an annual wildlife photo contest. Underwater, in the woods, high above cities, all over the world, showing amazing diversity and precarity of life. “Whilst inspiring absolute awe and wonder,” said the curator, “the photos depict our impact on nature – both positive and negative.” A huge horseshoe crab whose ancestors have been swimming since the time of dinosaurs flanked by three smaller fish, now threatened by habitat destruction and overfishing. Barn owls perch in a window of an abandoned roadside building as streaks of passing taillights, highlight tensions. “The beauty of the natural world is all around us,” said the 17-year-old winner, “even in places where we least expect it to be, we just need to open our eyes and our minds.” [ii]

Friends, we’re piling up glimpses, experiences, mystical moments of awe. That’s what Psalm 65 is all about—that’s good news we want to feel and become wise to as much as any knowledge we glean. Last week I opened my mind to books, my eyes on hikes, my heart in prayer at the Weston Priory in VT. My VRBO rustic cabin perched 2.5 miles up a dirt road on a hill by a stream on our bulletin. Gorgeous scenes of autumn leaves, reading about simplicity, inspired by the simple witness of those monks living with others in the hills around, all cramming in to an old barn last Sunday to worship—about as many of us here today—every folding chair full. My spirit often flowed with awe like water in that stream.

Maybe that’s how I perceived it after a few podcasts on the drive out. Dacher Keltner does neuroscience research, recently working with awe. An experiment set up in Yosemite—right where people enter the valley and see for the first time El Capitan, Half Dome, the Merced River flowing through. Draw yourself, people were invited. And invariably, across cultures and ages people drew themselves very small.[iii]

You see, friends, here’s my summary of what podcasts and research suggest. When we’re in the flow of awe we’re moved in three ways, maybe stages. First, we feel part of something bigger than ourselves alone. It makes us humble, respectful, grateful, joyful. Second, we see more clearly the systems of which we’re a small part—connected to other people and creatures, ecosystems and all creation, social structures for better and worse, just and unjust. We’re all related, inextricably interconnected. Third, awe leads us to be more generous and helpful. Keltner and colleagues staged an experiment in a large grove of huge eucalyptus trees—the height, the scent, the light passing through gently rippling leaves. As groups bathed in the forest, someone ambled by and dropped a load of pens. Consistently, those who felt more awe also proved the most helpful in cleaning up the spill. In mystical moments, awe breaks bounds of ego, what we think we have figured out about our lives and the world—what we try to explain, definitely beyond what we can control. Awe moves us to new belief / behavior as we feel threatened, disoriented, taken to an edge of reality, where our hearts and minds reorient our place and purpose in the circle of life.[iv] On a Lake Michigan pier, in a church sanctuary, on a city street, on a couch in conversation.

Keltner calls it a reset button in life—maybe we’d say in living faith. We share deep sorrow on a day of incessant rain over the lake, and then a heron lifts from shore to flap and glide toward another shallow fishing spot. Much like how it feels when Divine Grace flows among us—we’re awed by a sacred sign. We hear tragic news from Armenia or Gaza or a convenience store down the street here in Kalamazoo. Then we hear stories like Keltner tells of meeting the Dalai Lama. He wanted to learn about this research, Keltner explaining some observation when the Dalai Lama interrupted with earnest affirmation: yes, compassion is the heart of being human![v] Inside us all as we’re created and born, but it gets twisted / disoriented / life disordered. Yeah, we really need that affirmation as so many Palestinians and Israelis grieve and give in to more fear, anger, violence. As we meet neighbors so near, here at CtV on Wednesday or out our own home door where maybe they have a sign in the yard that we wouldn’t put in ours. As we face all joys and successes, feel all the loss and hope.

Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs, O God, the psalmist sings.

Friends, here’s how it gets real. Awed to heaven and rooted to earth—I love that prayer!

Sometimes awe hits us unexpectedly—nothing we can plan or accomplish. But Keltner and others urge that we can go in search of awe, opening the eyes of hearts. You see, their scientific observation makes total sense from a center of faith. Keltner and colleagues invited stories of awe from around the world—thousands and thousands of participants from 26 countries. Many references to nature—wandering through forest glades, wondering, singing “how great Thou art” or God of the Sparrow, as we will soon. Still, more than anything else, even the natural world, by far the most common and universal were stories about people touched by goodness and moral beauty in others so near. No Gandhi, Mother Theresa, some other great saintly heroine of faith, rather neighbors and strangers, grandmothers and roommates doing little things in ordinary routines of life.[vi] It’s the gifts I cherish as a such a privilege to share at memorial services like Ron Marvin’s last Friday.

In the words of Psalm 65, friends, that’s the vow / pledge God calls us to make in this season and throughout the year—our living faith. That’s what Paul tries to urge his friends, earliest followers of Jesus in Philippi to see and to seek. The text we’ll read in a moment is pleasant, easy on the ears and heart, uplifting—he’s piling up virtues of humanity at best like the fields and hills in Psalm 65. No slaughtering of enemies, no warnings of disaster, no strange and scary bits that aren’t the first we read to our children. Yet, don’t be fooled. It’s a vision of so much more than surface happiness, promising easy bliss. Paul writes from prison, charged with an offense of faith that could cost his life. He writes to people being persecuted, with so little. And on the receiving end, there’s some serious conflict among the Philippians about which we don’t know details, except the names of two women—maybe early leaders in the congregation. He’s trying to push a kind of reset button in their life together. Unless I’m reading it all wrong, he’s urging them to embody the awe of moral beauty. To be signs of the Divine by which maybe others will be awed and inspired.

They aren’t virtues that are exclusively Christian. Maybe that’s part of the good news, as we see how we’re part of something so bigger than ourselves. Yet, we do see how this life of gentleness and generosity flows from sharing the mind and heart and purpose of Divine Love in Christ. Joy and peace we seek comes through deepening relationship with the God of the sparrow and whale and swirling stars, God of neighbor and foe, hungry and prodigal.

Amber told me this week, she posted some of these phrases on her college dorm room. Maybe that would have been a smarter way to channel young adult angst and growing self-awareness than standing on the end of a pier in a storm. However, we feel need to yell or yearn to live in love, maybe at best it could be inscribed deep within us.

{Read Philippians 4:4-13}

Thanks be to God. Amen.



[1] See Dacher Keltner in conversation in conversation with Krista Tippett, On Being ( and with Shankar Vedantam, Hidden Brain (

[1] Ibid.

[1] Ibid.

[1] Ibid.



















[iii] See Dacher Keltner in conversation in conversation with Krista Tippett, On Being ( and with Shankar Vedantam, Hidden Brain (

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.