By Ellen Nimmo
The most beautiful colors chase the sun.
That is a verse from a song. Without much context you can probably decipher that the lyric is describing a stunning sunset. The lyricist witness, observing, even after the sun has dipped below the horizon, the striking evidence: the sun was there, calling out in colorful clouds and sky. Those streams of vibrant light which appear to the human eye only when the light of the sun is passing through more air, more cloud, more atmosphere. It’s a process scientists call scattering. Professor of meteorology, Steven Ackerman, explains it this way:
“Because the sun is low on the horizon, sunlight passes through more air at sunset and sunrise than during the day, when the sun is higher in the sky. More atmosphere means more molecules to scatter the violet and blue light away from your eyes. If the path is long enough, all of the blue and violet light scatters out of your line of sight. The other colors continue on their way to your eyes. This is why sunsets are often yellow, orange, and red.”
Have you ever seen a beautiful sunset? Bet you have. If not, I urge you to do so as soon as possible!
Last week, I heard an altogether different verse. Instead of sunsets, the poet spoke of trees. It was their way of talking about a certain type of person. The type whose efforts produce good results. Whose soul-spirit is evergreen, unfading. Whose stability is not shaken, come wind or storm, come drought or famine. This person is like a tree, planted by streams of water, yielding its fruit in season (Psalm 1:3). This type of metaphor makes a lot of sense to my brain.
Have you ever seen a tree by a stream? Bet you have. If not, I urge you to do so as soon as possible!
I guess you could say that the natural world is one of the finer influences I’ve had as it relates to my understanding of the world and God. While this isn’t unique by any stretch, it’s worth noting.
Trees and skies and flowing streams aren’t the only way nature can astound me. Take my niece, for example. My niece is pretty cool. Call me biased, it’s fine. My brother has been a great dad to her is part of the reason, nurture at work. Another reason is simply good luck, nature doing its thing. There are probably a lot of other reasons that are somewhere between the two, a mysterious blend. But I digress.
One wonderful September my brother and niece decided to come to stay with me for a weekend. I had made a big deal about a great music festival that was going to be taking place over the weekend and promised to find us all tickets and described what an absolutely rocking good time we would have, claiming there was a lot of things for kids and families to do aside from the awesome live music, good food, and green space. They agreed to come and I was going to do my best to make it a fantastic time. Home cooked breakfasts, horseback riding, lunches from the best local cafes and restaurants, treats from coffee shops and ice cream parlors, board games, movies, nature walks on trails, and more! Maybe they’d have such a great time they’d want to come up more often. Heck, maybe it would convince them to be here full time! One can hope.
The problem with expectations is that they’re often way off. We build things up in our mind. We justify. We self –aggrandize. We work ourselves into a lather. We pile on the expectation burdening ourselves and others. We plate spin.
As it turned out, there weren’t all that many things for kids to do at said music festival. A small Ferris wheel with a long line and a booth where you could get a henna tattoo. My homemade biscuits weren’t nearly as tasty as I’d remembered. The local fare lunches out were expensive and lackluster. The coffee shop treats of hot cocoa and lattes disappeared quicker than you can say “That’ll be $23.60, would you like whipped cream?” I didn’t even own any board games.
I could feel the disappointment accruing in my heart. My expectations were crushing.
Luckily, my brother is pretty chill, wise beyond his years. He asked if we could go find a spot in the shade and just kick back for a little while.
If I’m transparent, I didn’t really want to go sit in the shade for a while. It felt like defeat. It felt like we weren’t having all.the.fun! It felt like I wasn’t being the hostess-with-the-mostest that I wanted to be. It felt like I was disappointing them and, in that, myself. It felt like a big ol’ punch to the gut.
But, nature nurtured me into joyful submission, thank God.
After a song or two underneath the swaying leaves my perspective shifted.
In that pause, we found the restful play that I had wanted the whole experience, their whole visit, to prompt. Succumbing to the wind and sunshine. To the gentile whispering of the leaves. Tossing walnuts in a game of laughter inducing delight. Letting the music fill the air without overpowering it. There, under the tree, we discovered what I tried to contrive.
And to think, I nearly rejected the invitation!
In releasing the white-knuckled grip I had on my expectations, that’s when joy came.
It was there we settled. Like those beautiful colors which always chase the sun, which always follow along, scattering their way through the atmosphere, through wind and cloud, to settle into something lovely. Sunrays of light retelling their story in a new glow. That it rose that morning, set that evening, and it will rise again.
For me, nature has, in many ways reflected what I’ve come to believe: Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is the stream by which all life is sustained, the light by which all things are seen. What the moments underneath that peacefully swaying tree, with music and family nearby reminds me, is that I have the opportunity to enter into the transcendent promise of a man, both fully human and fully God, offers. “Come to me,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest.” It is an invitation that brings with it the discovery of more. In part now and in completeness forever in the great beyond.