The Unchangeable Astounding Things

Two springs ago we sat on a boulder the size of a church chapel and watched the sun set in the western sky. We were mostly alone and the sun set slow, each cloud and ray and mountain lake reflection painting a different canvas every second. Each time I thought, this is it, it couldn’t get more beautiful, and then it did. We sat there until we shivered in the dark and then we gathered ourselves and made the long trek down the mountain to our bed and breakfast.

We slept for six hours and then rose, gathering our coats and toques and sleepy selves and made the trek back up the mountain, this time to the east side and there we watched the first sunrise that day in the United States. The parked cars snaked down a half a mile down from the top, the viewers curled in blankets on boulders and drinking hot tea or coffee or cocoa out of thermoses. We were silent, a hundred or two hundred of us or more, scattered over the mossy rocks, standing on top of the world and greeting her with hushed and holy moments. And then she rose. And then we left.

When we were planning our trip to Maine this was one of the only things I knew I wanted to do for sure. Why? I don’t know. There is a sunrise and a sunset every single day in every single place in the world. It is more normal and pedestrian than rain showers or snow, weddings and funerals, taking a shower and eating dinner. They are the two things more dependable than anything else in the world and yet. I shrug. And yet.

It is the pedestrian things that awe me most, I think. It is the mountains formed by eons of earthquakes and floods. It is the stars that I know will always be where they are right now in my lifetime even if where I see them right now means they aren’t there right now. It is the punctuality of high tide and low, the predictability of the moon’s rise and swell and diminishing. These are what keep me awake and aware. I wait for the season’s changing not because I think the next season is better but because I know the next season is coming. It is the coming of the thing, the anticipation of its certain arrival, that comforts me most.

It helps me to understand why I often feel so disoriented in a place where the seasons are mostly just one form of hot or warm all year, why the flatness of the earth around me in Dallas makes me feel landlocked and insecure at the same time, why my husband’s gasp that I must see the moon peeking around our neighbor’s roof and the tree in their back yard pulls me outside to the stoop where I stand on tiptoes to gasp at his florescent brilliance. I ache for these pedestrian things.

Yesterday I had a conversation with someone and he said he has spent a lot of his life running from the small when he knows God has called him into the big, and even as he spoke, I felt it affirmed in me that I am called to the small and am crushed in the big. I thrive in the small and feel swallowed by the big. I thrive when I am just one of hundreds on the top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park staring at the pink-red sun ascending over the Atlantic Ocean. When I know I am nobody in that space and I still get to see that. I’m stunned by it. I swallow hard right now thinking of it. Tears spring to my eyes knowing it.

Not everyone is called to the places where we know our smallness, some are called out of those spaces. But I know, for me, I will spend my life hunting them out. I do not need laundry and arguments and long conversations with friends and failure and misunderstanding and making love at midnight and waking up to the scent of coffee at 5am and and the monotonous motions of the every day to remind me of how small I am, although they all help. I simply need the sun to rise and set, each day more glorious and more normal than the day before.

I am stunned, always, by God’s unchangeableness. It is the one thing about Him that keeps me coming back, circling around, standing in awe, desperately desiring to know him more. I am chief of changers, changing my mind, changing my heart, changing my story, changing my will. I am fluid, in motion, a flighty bird or a fearful bug. I am learning why I am those things more and more these days (and it’s not what I thought), but it doesn’t change the fact that I am that. And so I need the unchangeable things to hem me in, hold me tight, show me how, and keep me kept. God alone does that but he uses nature to prove it, to me at least. Maybe he proves it in the smile of your child or the hand of your lover or the ear of a friend or the affirmation of your leaders or the joy you get when you teach someone or learn something. He can show you his unchangeableness however he wants. It’s the sunrise for me and the sunset. It’s the mountains and the four full seasons. It’s the blood orange moon cresting by my neighbor’s house. It’s one glimpse of his promise to be the same yesterday, today, and forever, to be big so I can be small, and to keep me hemmed in when so much of the world runs free.

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