Faces on Faith: Ankles and sunsets and God
During a class I was teaching about various spiritual disciplines, I mentioned that pondering the beauty of the natural world is a way we can connect to the Holy. God can speak to us through such things as sunsets or a leaf, a beautiful tree or the nighttime sky. After the class someone came up to speak to me about the class. “You know,” he said, “I feel so fortunate to be here on Sanibel, where we have all kinds of beautiful natural places to walk, to meditate, to pray. So many things to inspire us on the journey of faith.” And so we do. Sunrises and sunsets that rival any in the world. Clear dark stars, sprinkled with starlight. The sight and sound of the Gulf lapping against the shoreline. Quiet places like the Indigo Trail or the Bailey Tract.
Many years ago, when our children were teenagers, my wife Linda and I took them on a vacation to Provincetown, way out at the tip of Cape Cod. We figured it might be a better vacation all around if we allowed each of them to invite a friend to come along, and so they did. Bruce invited one of his high school buddies, and Elizabeth invited a friend from church – we’ll call her Margaret. Driving over the car trip was less than ideal. The kids all bickered with one another. The big ones teasing the younger ones. You know, you’ve probably taken such a trip! We really wondered if we had done the right thing. And all along, Margaret got quieter and quieter.
Little did we know at the time, but this was Margaret’s first trip away from home without her parents or her grandparents. And Provincetown can be a rather overwhelming place if you’ve never been there before. Sort of a Key West of the north. We love it! But it is full of sights and sounds that are rather remote from the experiences of a young Jersey girl from the suburbs. And near the end of the first day, Margaret began to complain that she had hurt her ankle. It was clearly not broken, probably not sprained, but when she said she wanted to stay in her room rather than go out and explore, when she said she didn’t even want to swim at the hotel pool, the trip became even more of a disaster, especially for our daughter who felt compelled to stay with her friend. It wasn’t quite the vacation from hell, that’s another family story, but it was coming awfully close.
The last night we were there, Linda and I decided we were all going to Race Beach to see the sunset. Even Margaret. As we bundled into the car, there was a bit of bickering and complaining, and a fair amount of sullenness. The older kids had wanted to hit the streets. Margaret had just wanted to stay in her room. And Elizabeth was just plain miserable. Finally, we reached our destination. We traipsed over the dunes, and then spread out our blankets. And then watched as the sun slowly sank into the Atlantic. The kids, much to our amazement, sat spellbound. They didn’t listen to their electronic devices. They didn’t even talk. They just took it all in. And as the sky turned to black, and the stars came out, it was as if God’s peace had descended over all of us. And what had been a disaster of a vacation was rescued by a reminder that God is always there – even when ankles hurt, and kids bicker, and being far from home is scary.
The Rev. Dr. John H. Danner is the senior pastor at Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ.