Friday, May 13, 2011

The Big Picture

Hiking to Mt. Whitney, CA
Do you ever get overwhelmed at the enormity of the world?  It’s mind-bogglingly huge to me.  Mountain peaks, canyons, grasslands, valleys, oceans, caves, plateaus, forests, deserts, and tundra, each impressive in its own right, are combined into a planet that is unfathomably gigantic.  I won’t even get into the galaxies, and certainly not the universe; pondering it makes my head explode.  There have been a few times in my life when I was particularly struck by the vastness of the planet we call home-- for instance, climbing the steep, jagged mountain walls of The Whitney Zone; peering over the rim of the Grand Canyon; laying in a field staring at millions of stars in a black abyss (see, there goes that universe stuff again.. Gah!); trekking across the deceptively expansive Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park; and backpacking deep in the Linville Gorge with mountains hugging close around me.  Each of these experiences left me feeling inconsequential, insignificant, vulnerable... small.  “They” say that’s when we feel true humility, right?  When we’re standing in the presence of greatness?  I think “they” are absolutely correct.  Don’t believe me?  Then get out... I mean really, truly OUT.  Spend some time in the wilderness, and you’ll know what I mean.  

Either that or rent a few of the Planet Earth DVDs.  
A little piece of the complexity
It’s not just the world’s physical size that gets me, though.  It’s also its complexity.  All these teeny tiny parts combine to make slightly less teeny tiny parts, which combine to make tiny parts, which combine to make... well, I suppose you get the point.  And once those parts combine to make a whole--an organism, say-- there’s the next level of complexity:  those organisms’ interactions with one another and with the non-living parts of their environment.  It’s a tangled, interwoven mess of relationships that somehow just... works.  Crazy!  Beyond the enormity and complexity of our planet, there’s also the unbelievable power, the incredible force, that pulses, grows, ebbs and flows through a world that is at once incredibly strong and incredibly fragile.  
And yet all of these things, while difficult to grasp, still don’t compare to the feeling I get when I consider all of the lives lived on this planet, past and present... all of the stories, the losses, the celebrations, the journeys taken by each individual to set foot on the earth from its inception.  When I was younger, I remember riding in the backseat of my parents’ vehicle past downtown and seeing a parking lot full of cars outside of a hotel.  At that point I hadn’t experienced Mount Whitney or the Grand Canyon, I didn’t know what quarks or symbiotic relationships were, and I wasn’t really aware of cultures other than those that existed in my own hometown.  Even then, though, I was overwhelmed at the realization that each car represented at least one human being.  So many people!  How different their life experiences must be!  How varied their worldviews!  How unique their day-to-day experiences!  And in that moment, I remember wondering if, despite those differences, they all still desired to feel loved, valued, and cared for.  I wondered if they felt it.  Did they sense a connection to the people living, working, and even parking next to them?  Or did they live their lives autonomously, isolated in their personal bubbles, offices, and sedans?  That day, as a 10-ish year old girl with a limited perspective on life, I remember feeling overwhelmed with curiosity about all those people represented by all those cars, and overcome by the great need I already sensed for us to love each other well.  

Refugees from 5 nations graduating
from our job training program
Those feelings have stayed with me through the years, becoming both deeper and broader with time as I’ve had the privilege of interacting with people from all sorts of backgrounds.  I am still overwhelmed, but now I’m also awed by the gift of diversity God has given us through his great, divine creativity, and I’m honored by the responsibility entrusted to us-- the responsibility to serve, to bring healing, to recognize the beauty in one another and help it grow.  
I think it’s important to remember the very, very big picture, and to appreciate the vastness of our creator and his creation (including but not limited to the human species).  We need to live our lives in constant awareness of the greater story.  But let’s not forget that this great story is told one sentence, no, one word at a time.  It’s our daily interactions, our moment-to-moment decisions, that make up each phrase.  It’s our daily commitment to step outside of our personal bubbles, lift our eyes up from our own affairs (Philippians 2: 3-4), and love one another that gives each sentence meaning.  And running through it all, a constant, steady thread linking each tiny piece of the narrative, is grace-- without which the complicated, messy story just wouldn’t make any sense.  

No comments:

Post a Comment