When I was training for a marathon, I would fill my pockets with orange slices in Ziploc bags. As weariness snuck up, one or two slices popped in my mouth would push it back and give me strength to press on another few kilometers. God's words and His encouragement sometimes come in bite-sized slices -impressions, experiences, encounters - and are just enough to push weariness back and keep us pressing on a little further...

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Snapshots Not Taken (November 12, 2009)

I would make a terrible Boy Scout. First, and obviously, because I’m not a boy. Also, tan is not a good look for me - neither are shorts or sashes. I have a gift for getting lost in the woods and I have never helped an old lady across the street. I am hopeless with knots. The biggest reason I would make a terrible Boy Scout, however, is because being prepared is not one of my strengths. Life tends to take me a little off guard sometimes. Usually it’s because there’s something I forgot to do.

Like charge my camera battery. Right now I am in the valley of Georgia O’Keefe. The Southwestern United States is the rugged desert yin to Eden’s luscious yang - lands contrary in form, but equal in beauty. A thousand shades of orange are layered in these mountains, a thousand shades of blue drift across the sky. Night sweeps deepest black when it falls, a fistful of diamonds scattered from horizon to horizon; day dances to tones of autumn, light and shadow keeping tempo for a sun two-stepping between the mountain ranges. The moments in the middle - sunset - leave me breathless every time.

Wedged between a knobby Dr. Seuss-like rock formation and crags of a looming plateau, the sun melts to little more than a pinpoint of blinding light. The clouds, unwilling to let it go, edge themselves with rims of gold, stretching the sun’s splintered reflection long and wide across the vast expanse of evening. The blues of coming night press up against the reds of lingering day and the colors in between have no name. They are only spectacular, unknown but in these brief moments which are neither day nor night.

I watched it all, impatiently, from behind glass. I’m here for meetings and such and sunset isn’t on the agenda. So, when it teased me from the window with its casual grandeur and whispers of glory I could hardly focus on the speaker I was supposed to be listening to. As he was wrapping up, I was out the door, unzipping the camera case that had been burning through my backpack for at least the last quarter of eternity.

I jogged through a dry field and centered myself in the sunset, gauging the best angle to catch it as it fell around me. One photograph captured an anemic imitation of its splendor, and I flipped the lens from vertical to horizontal and back again, steadying it for the next great shot.

The next great shot never came. Instead, there was a whizz and a whirr and the lens retracted back into the camera, closing its eye with a resounding click. I jabbed the “on” button, but I was ignored. Keeping one eye on the ever-changing symphony of color, I removed the offending battery and impatiently shoved in the spare. Nothing. Apparently, I had forgotten to charge that one, too.

Helpless to hold on to even a wisp of the smoldering heavens, I let the sun take its bow in anonymity. This paparazzo was powerless.

I realized then my attempts to capture the sunset had been futile long before my battery died. I had been trying to contain the uncontainable, as if a photo in a frame was an acceptable substitute for standing in the presence of the mountains under fire-kissed clouds. Even if my battery suddenly sprang back to life, it didn’t matter how many photos I took - not one could pin this moment down, not one could lock it into immovable place.

It struck me then how often I try to pin God down. To lock Him into a place of my understanding. I see Him at work during a particular time in a particular way and I want to capture Him in that moment - I want to frame Him and put Him on my shelf. I flip my gaze from vertical to horizontal and back again, trying to limit Him to a view I can control.

The problem is that I cannot contain the uncontainable. God cannot be categorized, limited to human comprehension. When Moses asked Him His name, He answered:

“I am who I am”. (Genesis 3:14)

Endless possibility hangs on that name. It is limitless and it is finite all in the same breath. God is defined by His own definition. He offers no apologies or explanations for this ambiguity. Perhaps, because it is an ambiguous name only by human standards. We, who are pearls, see each other’s luster and nuances of color only by the ever-changing light of circumstance. He, who is a diamond, has a million brilliant facets, each one perfect, each one equal, each one reflecting a different integral piece of Himself. By heaven’s measure, He could have no other name.

I tend to see one facet and draw all my conclusions about Him by the light of that one facet. I try to limit Him to location. I try to limit Him to circumstance. I try to figure out how He works so that I can manipulate the situation when it suits me. I try to place an entire length of endless sky on a minute square of film.

The thing about sunsets is if you watch them long enough, they change. The clouds that were aglow with hidden embers just a few minutes ago have since turned to ash, fading now into the ever-darkening sky. Every sunset I have ever seen has been startling in its beauty - no other sunset has been the same. Yet, it is the same sun that sets every night.

God’s work is startling in its beauty, but it seems He rarely works the same way twice. His methods may vary, but He is the same God working through them.

“I, the Lord, do not change.” (Malachi 3:6)

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come” (Revelation 4:8)

My God today is the same God who whispered to me as a child. He is the same God who awed me into silence in university, the same God who shielded me from a rain of bullets in Albania. He is the same God I knew on a hilltop in Wisconsin, walked with on a moon-lit Florida shore; we once drank tea and watched the sun rise over a pond in Indiana. We have run together along the Rhine River and sat on the dunes over the beaches of Belgium. My God today is the same God I worshipped on my birthday in Romania, with some of the most precious pearls I know by my side. I have no doubt that He ‘was’.

The colors with no name have long since faded now, the memory of them still warm on my soul. The fistful of diamonds have been flung far and wide and as I look up at the twinkling lights which God calls out by name, I have no doubt that He ‘is’.

And so, I must conclude, that He is also ‘to come’. Not in the way I expect, I guess, but that’s all right. He’s God - He can do things His way. He, Himself, does not change, but I have learned that if I watch Him long enough, my view of Him changes.

He has shown me many facets of Himself - Protector, Provider; Father, Fear-taker, Friend. He is all of these, but I am learning that He is also more. I cannot pin Him down to Who He has been. I cannot frame Who He is. I will not forget those facets of Him, because I know I will see them again. I just know I will also see Him in ways and places I never imagined.

I guess I’ll just have to be prepared.

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