Fruitful Emptiness: All This Unspeakable Beauty

Those of you who follow me on Instagram might have clued in by now that I recently spent some time on Maui. This was my second trip to the island, and it was everything a tropical island vacation ought to be: hot, humid, sunny, backdropped by the glory of nature, set to the easy tempo of island life. I was up everyday at the crack of dawn, when I would make myself a cup of tea and sit on the lanai to watch the sky change colors and then read a few chapters of a book. Anyone who has had the misfortune of waking me up early in the morning will tell you that I am not a happy camper at the first light of day. Yet for some reason on Maui my absolute favorite thing to do was to get out while most others were still deep in their slumber and witness the rising of the sun. It almost felt like some kind of secret, a private little moment between me and the sky, the clouds, the birds, and God.

The pinnacle of this – literally and figuratively – was the day we drove up to Haleakala to watch the sunrise over the clouds on the volcanic crater. We set out at 3am, and however we managed to get the whole lot of us notorious over-sleepers to get up in time was a miracle in itself. When we got out of our cars up at the viewing lot 10,000 feet above sea level, it was shockingly cold. The throng of tourists processed silently up the steps to the viewing plateau, almost as though we were entering some kind of temple. For a while there was nothing but pitch darkness while our eyes adjusted to the absence of electric light, but when our eyes finally found their sight we saw that the clouds were below us, surrounding us in what looked like a field of white cotton so thick it felt as though we we could walk right on it, punctuated by the occasional towering cumulonimbus cloud shaped like a giant hammer or a massive ice cream cone. And above us, a ceiling of stars that were so bright, so unfiltered by manmade lamps, and so close they looked like they might come crashing down on us with a strong wind or an ill-advised sneeze.

If that had been the extent of it, I would have been impressed enough. But then the sun started to rise.

At first the sky just started to change colors, not unlike what I had been used to seeing from my lanai. Deep blue, fading into indigo, iris, then lavender. And then, the first thread of amber lining a tall cloud in the distance. At first it was just an outline, barely there. Then the contours of the cloud started to catch fire in red, orange, and yellow until they were engulfed in the sun’s rays. It arrested my breath; I refused to blink for fear of missing a beat of this perfectly timed dance. As the orb of light moved up, the field of clouds that was once white came alive in shades of periwinkle and apricot. And then finally, the sun revealed its full golden glory, a hole in the sky through which God revealed a small portion of Himself to whomever would dare to look.

Everyday, the sun rises in this magnificent fashion over the earth, and everyday it’s different. It’s not everyday that we get to observe it from such a vantage point, but it happens nevertheless. As I sat on my small perch atop the clouds at Haleakala, breathless from the unspeakable beauty that was unfolding in front of my eyes, it occurred to me that everyday God creates a new masterpiece with the rising of the sun. Not just a masterpiece for the eyes, but a masterpiece that we get to live out and co-create in our lives. All of it is beautiful because He is beauty Himself. And the fact that we get to witness this beauty, that we get to participate in it from any vantage point – whether it’s from a summit at sunrise or a nameless moment in day to day life – is proof that we are prodigiously and unceasingly loved. Because I think that part of what it means to love is to share oneself with the other, one heart revealing and giving of itself to another heart. And God is always revealing Himself to us, whether or not we choose to see Him. In the sunrise, in the sunset, and in every moment between.

I’m gonna level with you, I wept at that mountain top. I thought about this prodigious love that never ceases to reach out to me and all I could think was how little I have done to deserve it, how I can never earn it, never pay it back. How unremarkable I am compared to this unbelievable, spectacular feat of nature that occurs entirely without my help. But I think that’s part of the mystery that is God, and the very essence of His love for us. It’s not there to be earned. It’s not there to be bought. It’s not even there to be understood. It’s there to be received as freely as it is given, so that we can then share it with one another. 

So here I am, sharing it with you. I can’t bring you to experience Haleakala the way that I did, and I’m sure that out of all the people who were there with me that day I was probably the only one crying like a dork. But I hope this post reminds you to consider the masterpiece that is unfolding around you, even inside you. You may have to search to find it, but it’s there. And whether you’re still looking for this beauty or you’re staring it in the face, remember that it came to you by way of love. The sunrise, the colors in the sky, all this unspeakable beauty, it’s all just one big expression of love: a love that is far greater than our eyes can behold, infinitely deeper than our hearts can fathom.

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