Learning to See: How to pay attention to the dawn


We awaken before dawn and race the sun to the rim of the Grand Canyon. A serious looking man stands behind a giant lens balanced on a tripod. I stand beside him, my camera pointed in the same direction as his. After spending thousands of dollars on that lens, he must know what he is doing. A few feet away a little boy sits on a rock, his back to the canyon. His father asks him to stand up, look, but the boy retorts “Dad! I’m playing a video game!” The sarcastic tone of his voice implies that even a stupid adult should be able to grasp the over-arching urgency of making progress in his game. Furious indignation swells in me. What foolish little brat could insist that Angry Birds is more worthy of his attention than sunrise over the Grand Canyon? Just behind his back, star-shaped glare from the sun hits the highest canyon walls. What  was masked in shadow just a moment ago is illuminated. Cliffs blush scarlet in the morning sun. White cliffs glow as if from within. Miles in every direction canyon walls sing the dawn. Each echoes the pattern and color of the next, but stands tall, straight, alone but together. Deeper notes pick up the tune as the sun quickly dances higher, creating pools of brilliant light and deep shadow. They dazzle me. All around me stand bored people who, like me, crawled out of warm covers to see this. They mill around, gripe, jostle each other until they can claim the best place to take a photo of themselves in front of the view. Within moments of sunrise most of them disappear, chasing the promise of hot coffee and breakfast.

All my life I have lived a single day’s drive from the Grand Canyon, but I’ve never stood on its rim and gazed a mile down to the bottom and ten miles across to the other side until now. Yesterday we drove more than twelve hours. The sun set as we approached the back gate of Grand Canyon National Park. Our hotel room beckoned, but the only way to get to it was to drive all the way through the park. I was in the driver’s seat, focused on the forward crawl of the many of tail lights ahead of me. I noticed the places for cars to pull over, but only because I wished the cars ahead of me would pull in there and let me hurry by. I cared most about getting to the hotel and falling into bed.

As the morning ripens we drive back to the missed view-points I flew past in the dark. Each time I peek over the rim new awe awakens in me. I am in awe of the artist as well as the art. God sculpted this canyon using water as his chisel, tiny drops that once fell to earth one at a time. To think, I flew past this at 40 miles an hour, annoyed that I was going too slow. A pain hits my chest. I am no different from that spoiled little boy.

We hike as far down into the canyon as we dare. It takes half an hour at a brisk pace to pass the top layer, the first white layer of rock that stands atop a thicker red layer. I stop and stare at the people I can see standing at the rim above us. They look tiny. Far across we see the same layer of rock, just a narrow stripe at the very top. These cliffs that dwarf us are just the epidural layer of this canyon. We hike on, switchback down, always down, snapping hundreds of photos. After putting four and a half miles of trail between us and the top we eat a lunch of trail snacks at a surprising shady oasis half-way down the canyon. Fear that my legs won’t carry me back up all those switchbacks before darkness falls forces us to turn back. It overtakes the desire to make it to the edge of this plateau so that we can peer down to the Colorado River still a full half a mile straight down. The moment I take the last step up to the top my aching legs don’t matter. We have done more than just seen this extravagant masterpiece of the creator, we have tasted it, become a part of it and it a part of us.

Grand Canyon image


Back home days later, a cacophony of duties assault me. I sigh and pour myself another cup of tea. I have forgotten the awe I felt. At the Grand Canyon I felt comfortable in my smallness. But here I only feel powerless. There are tensions in my stepfamily. My mother is recovering from a major health scare. My sisters and I call and text each other wondering how we can help her through a difficult stage of life. My dreams of ministry stagnate.

Small things dominate my life, drops of water that hit my face and sting. They join together to form streams, rivers, tearing me down, eroding the peace in my home, in my heart. I resent the troubles.

All the time, God beckons me to turn, look up, see the magnificence just over my shoulder, but I am absorbed in my little story, the little game I am playing, the pieces of my heart that are eroding away.

Though I cannot see it, God is singing dawn again. On the seventh day He rested but He never stops creating. I am part of it. I look at myself, my life, and see slow erosion. He looks at me and sees what I will be, a masterpiece chiseled and sculpted by his hand, a part of the whole. I focus on myself. He sweeps me up in his arms, lets me hear his hear His powerful heart beat until my own heart slows to fall into rhythm with it. He urges me to lift the eyes of my imagination and see what he is making. The end will be beautiful, breathtaking in scope, in generosity, in joy, and beauty. I stand at the precarious edge and surrender to wonder.

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