As I grew up in the Los Angeles area I saw the few stars that shone through the hazy, but very well lit sky. I knew there was more up there than the smoggy and light polluted sky showed, but I had rarely seen it.
In my senior year of high school our youth group went to a camp between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The camp was well up into the mountains, above the smog level in the Los Angeles basin. It was also quite cold, near zero actually.
On the last night of our stay, I stepped outside the cozy dining hall where someone was droning on about something religious. The first thing that struck me was the cold. I had never experienced anything like it. My warmest jacket was of little help.
What really grabbed my attention was the starry sky. The cold air was crystal clear. There was no light from the big city. Just stars! From horizon to horizon, stars and more stars. When I focused my attention on one spot, even the dark places had stars. Scientists say that we can see about 10,000 stars with the naked eye. I was sure that I was seeing all of them and more.
I was awe struck. It was awe in the deepest sense of the word: the feeling that there is something out there far greater than our ordinary experiences that is present in some unexplainable way.
As I looked at the stars I had some kind of feelings I had never felt before. Even the bone shivering cold was forgotten or ignored for a time. I saw the vastness of the universe. It wasn’t a learning experience. But something was changed inside of me.
A few years earlier I had joined the church. But that was no big deal, a few of my friends were joining at the same time, why not me too? I had gone to Sunday School all of my life, and to vacation church school, and to youth group. I knew the stories and had even read the Bible all the way through. But all of this was just how I used some of my time.
I cannot say why or how, but the awe-creating vision of those ten thousand lights was the turning point that made me serious about my faith in God. It did not instantly change my life. I was not “born again” in the usual way that that term is used. But my study of the faith became just that, a study, not mere curiosity. In many and small ways my commitment and my concerns grew.
To this day I do not know exactly what happened but I continue to be thankful for the life that has unfolded, strongly influenced by those moments of awe.