“We now no longer camp as for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden
How many days I’ve spent flurrying through life in the busyness of stressful demands, consumed by fleeting worries and temporal cares, I probably, unfortunately, could not count. But occasionally I have a day like today–would that there were more such days! At the risk of boring the reader to death with an ambiguous and personal account of the day’s wonders, I shall nonetheless proceed to do just that.
Today was slow–but not that creeping, deadening slowness which, full of boredom and apathy and other such diseases, drags onward towards an anticlimactic end. No, it was that glorious, steady slowness which clips along at the pace of pleasantness and begs you to savor each moment. Even sitting at my desk for eight hours was no drudgery, and the workday ended without my even longing for its surcease.
I proceeded downtown for an evening walk on Percival’s Island, along the James. I had only been there once before–and under none too favorable circumstances for fond memories of the time there–and I half expected the place to greet with me the nausea of unhappy nostalgia. But now, alone as I walked past the places I’d stopped to linger before, I felt again the glorious redemption with which all of Christian life is imbued. Instead of haunting, my memories enriched each spot–not swallowing up the moments spent there today in a wistful melancholy, but rather providing a solid foundation upon which to build new and better memories now, along with the hopefulness of memories yet to come.
I walked along the wooden planks of that curving bridge and listened to the water rushing underneath. I kicked about the fallen leaves along the long, straight path, and reveled in that crunching noise they make when trampled joyously underfoot. I stood in silent contemplation of two deer who grazed quite fearlessly so close to the path I could almost touch them–I stepped closer, and they didn’t even flinch as those same crunching leaves attracted their attention to myself. I read at a worn little picnic table among the jungle-like growths of summer weeds, as yet untamed by winter’s chilling touch. Perhaps best of all, I could gaze straight upward through entangled boughs of trees unchecked in growth, and the only sight besides those fluttering, swaying branches of leaves was the clear, blue, cloudless heaven beyond. Such a view afforded that rare and wondrous illusion that nature was as yet untainted by the empty and brash caresses of careless men.
And yet, nature herself in all her glory was not the only beautiful thing about the place–for no less beautiful were the elderly couples who strolled hand-in-hand along the path. Nor could I help casting a glowing and genuine smile at the tiny boy who sat perched on his bicycle beside his father, both stopped and staring intently, intensely, at those same deer who’d attracted my gaze just moments before. His face was so transfigured with the joy and wonder of this new experience that even his over-sized black bicycle helmet could not conceal his childish enthusiasm. And when familiar faces from the workplace also crossed my path, I gloried in the felicitous opportunity to celebrate with a colleague the gorgeous weather and the beautiful evening.
Even those traces of carelessness scattered about here and there in the form of empty cans or the broken-down pieces of now-unrecognizable structures did not detract from the beauty of the day. And as I stopped on the overlook of the bridge on my way back to my car, it was not in fact the rushing river that attracted my attention most–though seeing it now risen about the tops of trees whose roots held them steadfast against the river’s flow, and watching it crash wildly about jagged black rocks which interrupted its swift but broad and even surface, held fast my gaze for quite some time. But as my eyes rose to catch a glimpse of the sunset, they found that they could do so only by looking past some other distant bridges, past the railroad tracks that run along the river’s edge, past broken-down abandoned buildings, and past the smoking chimneys of rows of factories. Not to mention that lone, distinctive fountain, which shoots vertically into the Lynchburg skyline, seemingly purposeless and unending. Every brick and broken window, every rusted railroad spike and every stream of smoke, mystified me with an unidentifiable charm.
It was then, gazing at that twilight scene, that something hit me–something I’d suspected for a long time but had never yet quite felt: I love Lynchburg. I love the time I’ve lived here and all that’s happened in it. I love the landmarks which at once recall my deepest sorrows and my greatest joys. I love the little pieces of my life that lie scattered about the town, and I love the people who’ve shared such places with me. I found myself hoping that perhaps someday I’d stand in that spot again, hand-in-hand with some other as yet unknown. And then I surrendered to the still more distant hope that I too might someday watch the deer in that very forest with a child of my own, or walk down that same lane as a little old woman, my arm linked with some little old man’s. I’ve always asked myself if I truly think I could spend my life in Lynchburg, VA, just loving people, loving life, and drifting about howsoever God may lead–what a silly, simplistic, unambitious goal! And yet, tonight for perhaps the first time, though I’d long thought it to be true, I really felt as though I could be truly fulfilled doing just that.
But even more striking to my young and striving, to my immature or impatient, and all too easily discouraged soul was the fact that in those moments I felt that I don’t have to forget the past to have hope, and that I don’t have to worry about the future, and that it truly is often in life’s simplest moments that things of most eternal significance occur. For whatever may have been, God was faithful. Whatever may come to be, He will be faithful still. But most importantly, in what is happening right now, He IS faithful–if only I would bend my thoughts each moment towards this truth! For whether He keeps me in Lynchburg until the day I die, or whether He sends me half-way across the globe–whether I’m working in Resident Enrollment twenty years from now, or raising a family, or taking fast-food orders at a drive-through window–whether I am diagnosed with some easily treatable disease, or whether I struggle with constant and intense pain for the rest of my life–God’s one plan for me is to glorify Himself, and in light of that fact each moment of my life can be meaningful, can be joyous, can be full of gratitude for all His plan has given me thus far, and can be full of hope for anything His plan may have ahead.
For this world and the things that happen in it, though significant and purposeful insofar as they are bent towards God’s glory, are not our permanent home or our greatest concerns. We truly are but sojourners here, and only when we live in the light of eternity can even the brokenness in the world afford us with the reassurance of a greater hope. Merely earthly accomplishments and cares are but dross in such an eternally-focused light, for the glimmering gold of worldliness can only be seen as such by men whose lives are lived in the comparative darkness of a lesser sun. This I read in Kierkegaard as I sat outside today:
“Christianity’s divine meaning is to say to every man, ‘Do not busy yourself with changing the shape of the world or your condition of life, as if you … instead of being a poor scrub-woman, perhaps could manage to be called Madam. No, make Christianity your own, and it will show you a point outside of the world by the help of which you shall move heaven and earth so quietly, so easily, that no one notices it.'”
And just as nature quietly and easily and miraculously mirrors the glory of God, so may we share in bringing glory to the Creator of such a beautiful earth, to the Author of the story of each life lived therein, to the One who has made us sojourners here. And we may do so without troubling ourselves about appearing successful, about understanding the reasons for everything that happens, or about dealing with the thousand teeming trials that arise throughout the course of a day.
Perhaps these may indeed be only the enthusiastic ramblings of a naive and enthused mind after a particularly enjoyable day. And yet, there is certainly something to be said for simplicity. Life is complicated and difficult, yes, and there is still so much to learn–for everyone, and particularly for one so young and inexperienced as I am. But the less we allow ourselves to be consumed by what have come to be called life’s necessities, the more we shall discover what is truly necessary to that still-difficult, but ever-so-abundant life to which we have been called by Christ.