hope

Recently, I was blessed to be in California for a beautiful sunset. My friends and I timed it perfectly. Since we were staying inland, we left Anaheim and arrived in Laguna Beach just as the sky was beginning to change from daylight to twilight, and the clouds on the horizon had begun to change to beautiful shades of orange, red, and violet. The towering palm trees along the rocky shore became beautiful silhouettes against the changing sky. It was breathtaking, really.

Growing up on the west “coast” of Michigan afforded me the opportunity to watch many sunsets over Lake Michigan. The palm trees and rocky coast of Southern California aside, experiencing the end of a day watching the sun set on the water is profound, and grace-filled. In some way, witnessing the sun disappearing over the horizon speaks to me of hope. At the end of the day, I know that the sun will rise again tomorrow.

This rhythm of nightfall giving way to daylight, giving way to nightfall again is something I think we tend to take for granted. And yet, the repetitious rhythm of life is comforting. The pattern of making dinner, sharing a meal with those we love, clearing the table and putting away the just-clean dishes is a daily routine, one that can become drudgery. Driving to work and anticipating the schedule of the day, doing what is required of us, wrapping things up, and making our way home can be excruciatingly ordinary.

In his book Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, John O’Donohue writes,

“The world rests in the night. Trees, mountains, fields, and faces are released from the prison of shape and the burden of exposure. Each thing creeps back into its own nature within the shelter of the dark. Darkness is the ancient womb. Nighttime is womb-time. Our souls come out to play. The darkness absolves everything; the struggle for identity and impression falls away. We rest in the night.”

O’Donohue’s description of rest and renewal in the darkness of night inspires me to see the familiar routines of life that I find ordinary or simply take for granted as blessing. Preparing my daughter’s lunch for school. Walking to the mailbox with the dog at the end of a long day. Answering an email. Wiping the crumbs off the dinner table. An awareness of the gift of life can make the familiar motion of any of these things sacramental.

As my friends and I stood at the railing watching the sunset over the Pacific, we realized that a couple was posing for engagement photos on the beach below us. The four of us, all married for a while, could sense the hope and joy just in watching the body language of the young couple. This, for them, was anything but ordinary.

In the next few days, I invite you to notice the sunset. Be aware of the color of the sky changing. Consider the time of day, the temperature of the air, the amount of time that passes. Whether it is the view from your front porch over the house across the street, or you’re watching through a train window on the way home from work, or you are blessed to be able to  witness nightfall in solitude on a beach somewhere, give yourself a few moments to savor the reality that the sun will rise again tomorrow. Breathe in this grace, and then, rest in the night, with the rest of the world.

resolution

It’s almost time to take the Christmas tree down.

This saddens me. Our Christmas tree turned out beautifully this year, having evolved over the years. When we were first married, I was adamant that only things that came from nature (albeit artificial versions of them, if necessary) would hang on the tree. Pine cones, berry garlands, Christmas balls covered in red berries, dried apple and orange slices, raffia, icicles, and little red cardinals were among the items in the boxes I brought up from the basement every year. As I’ve refined my tastes I’ve begun to include grape vine balls covered in glitter, ornaments that look like ice-carved stars, white snowflakes in various sizes, and my own personal favorite, dozens of glitter-coated balls in red, gold, and brown. A beautiful angel in a white flowing dress finishes the display.

Why do I enjoy the tree so much this year? Perhaps the reason is something very complicated. I could view it as a parallel to our marriage, evolving and changing, maturing and relaxing. Or perhaps the reason is something as simple as grace.

This morning, as I sit in the dark family room enjoying this tree one last day, I think about something I observed earlier this week. I hold in my mind the image of hundreds of birds, moving in concert, as the sky turns from afternoon blue to dusky orange to deep red, and then to darkness. This image is something I’ve seen many times before, and every time I see it, it takes my breath away. This display of nature, of hundreds, maybe thousands of birds, their bodies appearing as shadows against the late afternoon sky, is grace. The birds, their wings churning up and down, fly as one large body from one side of the road to the other, a giant cloud of life and movement, until they stop to fill all the branches on three or four tall trees. Here, their silhouettes on the bare winter branches make the trees appear to have sprouted thousands of leaves.

The beauty of the first tree is that I had a hand in creating it. The beauty of the second tree is that all I had to do is pay attention. In nature, God created this amazing display for me and anyone else who noticed. Today, I ask God to continue to whisper, asking me to take notice. I resolve to listen to God’s call to appreciate the little blessings in my life each day.