Standing outside, encircled with snow mounds, bundled in a down jacket and wool pants, hands stuffed deep to stave off the burning cold, I stared wild-eyed at the sky above, watching clouds-made-of-light dance in a spectrum of colors. Mostly green. Sometimes white. A hue of red lining across the bottom. A little blue tinting. It changed as fast as I could notice. Spanning wide across the sky, often tucking itself into both horizons, and swirling like soap at a thick trace overhead. A patch of light suddenly appeared where darkness had resided before, and sends it shooting orb of misty, dancing light across, and overhead. It begins to shimmer and I hold my breath in anticipation.
I pull the phone out of the pocket of my green, down coat, to take a picture for all those back home who knew we were chasing the Northern Lights all the way to Fairbanks, Alaska. We had found them! Those elusive lights worth flying nine hours and driving twelve (from Soldotna) to get to. We had rented a cabin twenty minutes out of town, though we didn’t plan on sleeping much if it meant missing out on all that glory.
Looking through the screen of my phone, it was nearly black. A dim spread of color crept through the center of the screen, but not enough to really see without getting a headache trying. It looked nothing like the sky it was aimed at. I sighed, and tucked my phone away.
Smiles heard me, and remarked, “Maybe we’re not supposed to be able to take pictures, so we will just be present. Maybe you just have to come here to see them!” I smiled, knowing this magnificent light show was for us. That God wasn’t going to let me miss the majesty of the moment by trying to capture it, to put it in my pocket and take it back to Ohio. I couldn’t have captured the dance anyways, and as beautiful as the colors are, the show isn’t complete without the dance.
I remembered Tabitha, as she watched me snap pictures of everything within eye sight, during my first moments in Nepal telling me, “The best pictures are the ones in your memory.” And even though my pictures take me back, the moments I was most present are the ones that mattered most. You can’t be very present when you’re looking at a screen, even if it’s through a screen to capture a more permanent glimpse of what’s on the other side.
I often remark that we are only promised two moments: Now and Eternity. When I say it, it’s usually because I also need the reminder. In the 90’s or so, there was a phrase that went something like “I’d rather be here now”. I think they made bumper stickers out of it. I don’t recall. I did a lot of drugs in the 90’s and messed up my memory. The problem is, our minds are often not very present with our bodies. We are thinking of all there is to do, envisioning our future, or perhaps worrying about it. We are elsewhere, when we ought to be here now. This is not an accusation so much as a confession. I am altogether too guilty of doing this. That’s why I know you probably do it as well. I think it’s human nature.
Yet I recognize that it’s also one of the things God is changing in me, because I am so often convicted about it. He is in the business of transforming His people, and when He convicts us of sin it is not to guilt us but to grow us. God is growing me in the art of being present.
So, when I am standing with my jaw slung open and my neck craned back to not miss a moment of all this splendor, next to a husband who can’t stop exclaiming a refrain of “wow! wow! Wow!” I know the cold cannot chase me indoors, because there is something far more spectacular to see, and I have traveled a continent to see it. I don’t want to miss a micro-speck of these Northern Lights.
I have a friend named Hugo, who is just shy of his second birthday. On Sunday mornings, I follow Hugo around so his blessing-of-a-dad can play drums, and he won’t have to worry about his son’s safety. But I also follow Hugo because he is my teacher. And because I simply adore him. Hugo teaches me about wonder. One Sunday morning, I followed Hugo all throughout the sanctuary and into the kids’ room, where he told me about every set of eyes and tails on any animals he could find. He counted the offering plates, and told me (repeatedly) which coat was Monte’s, and that Roger was still home. Hugo’s vocabulary recently expanded exponentially. Listening to him fills me with joy. Because he is full of joy.
Hugo is present with the moment. He is full of wonder.
I want to be like Hugo. I want to act like a two-year old gawking at the sky, waiting for a shooting star to dazzle me, or some wild, dancing Lights to pierce through the dark and spread like wildfire across the abyss. I want to rejoice in the Now.
There are so many things vying for my attention. So many projects. So many loose ends. So many concerns. The whole world feels very, very vulnerable and unstable, like someone has shaken a snow globe and we are standing in the midst of it, without any ability to make it stop. But there is Aurora, just waiting to greet me under her Alaskan sky, dancing free above the mountain peaks, like a hippie dancing between the circle of drums and the pit of a campfire. I am full of childlike wonder once again.
She reminds me that I can trust and surrender and relinquish all my pent-up fears and frustrations. No matter how unstable the world is, I belong to an unshakable Kingdom and a faithful, true, unchanging King and Creator. The One who invented the Northern Lights and invited me to go see them.
But I didn’t have to fly to Alaska to see His majesty! He also gives His cherished people eyes to see the mundane-magnificent. To notice hot, running water, and a washing machine that works for me. A sunset painted across the sky at dusk. Smiling eyes and friendly faces. Fingerprints and dimples and freckles and warts. Tree bark and the first springs of growth in Spring. We see this ordinary majesty when we give thanks. All of creation is majesty, because all was created to sing His praise. I was created to sing His praise. When I am present and full of wonder in both the everyday and the spectacular, in washing dishes and Aurora Borealis, in each moment given, I am harmonizing the refrain of my life among the chorus of His worshippers, dancing in the firelight of a heavenly drum circle, to exalt the One who puts each and every breath in our lungs so that we can be full of wonder and gratitude and praise. That we could be present with His Presence, and radiant with delight in Him!
Space 3/16/21 a.d.