I snapped this photo in the fall of 1994, using one of those cardboard covered disposable cameras that I pulled out of my backpack. I liked how the straight lines of the trees faded into the mist. You can see the white blaze on the tree, marking the Appalachian Trail winding through the forest in front of me. All in all, it was calm and wonderful.
But all wasn’t actually calm and wonderful. This picture does not show it was Day 1 on the trail with a dozen juvenile delinquents, whom we had recently picked up from detention centers in Georgia. It does not show how these boys were storming already, flinging backpacks onto the ground and curse words at each other, unable to hike a mile before melting down. It does not show that I’m hiking alone to get out to a road where I can communicate with our logistics support about whatever emergency we were experiencing. And it does not show that there will be 25 more days of rain, wind, hiking for hours in the dark by headlamp, and yes, many more packs and curse words flung.
Both things can be true at the same time. Circumstances can be falling apart around us, yet if we look up, we can see beauty, peace, and glimpses of heaven.
Times have changed – I could now make that phone call and take the picture using one device not made of cardboard – but if anything, I feel this “both things can be true at the same time” tension even more acutely.
That same device can make me instantly aware of riots, floods, earthquakes, wars, mass shootings, and many more tragedies around the world. I see the effects of racism and sexism, and a variety of other “isms” near and far. I observe the polarized political landscape of our country, and a church that mirrors the polarization rather than following Jesus in unity.
More personally, my 23-year-old niece Emily recently died after battling cancer for a year. And I know of at least 3 other families who have buried their 20 something year old children. That is never right, or good.
So much heartache. So much grief. Circumstances are falling apart.
And yet, when I look up, I realize that other things are also true. I look up in nature a lot, and see the hand of a creator who made something unbelievably beautiful, and has plans to restore it. I see generosity and selflessness, forgiveness and reconciliation and other hopeful signs of people representing the kingdom of God that is here and is on its way. Echoes and fragments of a big picture that is full of justice, love and shalom, in a way we don’t currently fully experience. Aslan is on the move.
Life is awful. Life is wonderful. Both can be true. Look up.
P.S. Looking up in nature is one of the reasons I never get tired of the skies and sunsets across the water here at Sandy Cove. After almost 17 years here, I’ll still take the long way just to get another look out there! So if you want to be more intentional about looking up, I know a place…