I gave a brief introduction to this reflection with the previous post – recognizing the strange times in which we live, but also the need to remember the wonder of mercy that surrounds us.
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It was a long drive back from my father’s house in Colorado, but part of me wished I could have taken it slower. I am ever amazed at the majesty of the creation, and I would have loved to be able to take photographs of all that I witnessed coming across Colorado, Utah and Nevada on the old state highways: the big sky of the high plateau of the Rockies; the snow-covered peaks of the Wasatch Range visible from deep, rugged canyons; the alternating desert valleys and rugged ranges of the Great Basin; the evening light on Sand Mountain – it all begs to be captured on camera. Or, rather, I wish I could capture it on camera, to preserve, somehow, the sometimes haunting often overwhelming beauty I have seen.
Were I on foot, could I have captured the watchful insolence of the coyote trotting across the road? Could I have captured the mind of the bull moose working to draw attention away from the cow and calf at the riverside? Could I have captured the power of eagle wings lifting off? Could I have captured the delicacy of mountain wildflowers? The frenzy of chipmunks? The dangerous languor of sunning rattlers? Or are they there only as moments to be enjoyed but never contained?
I have a few photos, taken at rest stops and occasional halts along the way, but mostly they are fading memories, replaced only by the knowledge that it was beautiful.
I suspect no one remembers last Christmas Eve, let alone the second Sunday in Advent or the 14th Sunday after Pentecost. My hope is that they each have their beauty, their majesty, their sense of the divine and that, while we don’t remember any one of them, such memories are replaced by the knowledge of heaven’s grace and the importance of living gracefully, faithful to God and to others.
It’s possible, I know, to drive the country and see little, to wonder only how long this will last and attend to little but the souvenir shot glasses, rocks, and pocketknives in Wyoming truck stops. In the days before air-conditioning I have ridden with my bare feet in the window feeling the hot wind while I waited in boredom for my sister to quit singing and it all to be over. But there was wonder there, had I dared to see it.
I visited again the church in Longmont where I was baptized and, most recently, we held my stepmother’s funeral. In between, there have been many baptisms and funerals and ordinary Sundays shifting with the generations. I remember where we sat with my grandmother, and where we sat with my stepmother, and where I sat with my daughter. One of the ladies working in the office had been a neighbor on the next farm over (past the one room grade school) from my grandfather’s farm where Dad shoveled sugar beets before and after classes at Longmont High School. I found the photo of Dad’s confirmation class in the church basement. His brother, Erik, was in the photo, too. Sunday after Sunday, hymn after hymn, scripture reading after scripture reading, sermon after sermon, the splash of baptismal water, the taste of bread and wine, prayers and tears and candlelight Christmas’s and Easter trumpets and warm summer Sundays and bitter winter ones, again and again moments of grace adding layer upon layer like the stunning rocks lifted up by the weight of the Rockies to reveal the lines laid down over eons by countless sands and microscopic remains.
Worship is not about peak experiences; it is about the wondrous beauty all around us: the fidelity of a God who abides with us whether or not we abide with him; the persistence of a God who calls, cajoles, and sometimes forces us to lives of compassion and faith; the grace of a God who welcomes us and all to his table.
It is possible to sit in the pew on Sunday morning like I once did in the back seat of our old station wagon across the Great Basin and see little of the majesty around us. But it is there. And those who come week after week know that something is being created in us bit by bit: lives that are holy and true.