"Nothing humbles or shows you your worth like the night sky..."
I really enjoy car trips. I enjoy simply sitting and looking out the window for hours on end. On family trips I would usually sit in the very back seat of the van with my Walkman/Discman/iPod and headphones and just watch the world go by. I love looking at towns and neighborhoods and houses and thinking about all of the stories. I remember one particular trip through the outskirts of Indianapolis that filled me with such wonder at the big-ness and small-ness of the world that I still feel a sense of awe when I think about it. Yes, Indianapolis. Who knew? That was just it- the scenery wasn't anything necessarily noteworthy in and of itself, but as we drove past neighborhoods and parks and even strip malls and railroad tracks, I felt like mine was a window to a whole big world with so much life and movement and story and relationship. There is so much story. Everywhere. I remember I was listening to Nichole Nordeman's album This Mystery, and I indeed was feeling alive to the mystery of life. In one song she sings "Oh, great God, be small enough to hear me now," and I just felt so aware of that dichotomy - little me in such a small corner of a big world, under the eyes of a big God who holds all the little stories in his hands. It was a humbling moment for me, on the interstate outside of Indianapolis. I've felt that way since in places both large and small, grandiose (Paris!) and comparatively mundane (Council Bluffs, this past Sunday!).
I'm reading Shauna Niequist's Cold Tangerines right now and I love how she talks about travel: "I've become, since that trip, an equal-opportunity solo traveler. I love Pittsburgh and Hamburg and Pismo Beach. I love Ann Arbor and Austin and Evanston. I love the tacos at La Superica on Milpas in Santa Barbara and the smell of waffle cones on Water Street in Saugatuck... It felt like being at a fancy hotel's breakfast buffet, where you're so overwhelmed by the options, you almost want to give up, but more than overwhelmed, you are delighted, and you want to taste every single bite, and just waking up to the stack of plates makes you feel like something great is happening to you. That's how it feels to be alone in a city, like something great is always about to happen to you."
Reading this made me think of that day riding in my parents' minivan outside of Indianapolis, and of the night a decade ago that I flew into the Twin Cities at sunset and was captivated by those Minnesota lakes interspersed through countless neighborhoods beneath me. I thought of the train rides Matthew and I took all over Europe three years ago, and of countless winter days driving with my family around suburban Cleveland visiting relatives.
Sunday evening, I was on such a road trip with Matthew and Noelle. We were headed west from my hometown in Iowa to our home in Nebraska. The sky was changing as we wound our way through the Iowa fields and the display was stunningly beautiful in its simplicity. I've seen bigger, brighter, more colorful sunsets before, but the sky on Sunday just captivated me for reasons of its own. The clouds were dark, rich with blues and grays. They weren't ominous, but definitely serious, holding the weight of glory. There was a narrow bright ribbon of orange hovering just above the horizon, and the light hit the fields in just the right way that made the greens and golds shine.
Matthew and I were listening to Andrew Peterson's "Don't You Want to Thank Someone?" on repeat and I was simply in awe as we drove. I've traveled that path countless times over the past ten years, and often don't pay much attention. But Sunday... I felt humbled and deeply loved under that twilight sky. Maybe it's a selfish thought, but I felt like the sky was made just for us that night. Most probably didn't really find it all that special, really, but it was to me. I think about what Ann Voskamp says in One Thousand Gifts when she talks about being utterly surprised by the joy of the moon in her backyard: "I pay tribute to God by paying attention." I really felt the blessing of God as we made our way home that evening, and was simply thankful. I think the secret to joy really is just looking out the window from time to time, paying attention to all that he has made, and knowing that it is good.
(Back in June, we heard Andrew Peterson, Sara Groves and Andy Gullahorn perform in Lincoln, and Sara played a new song that she and Andy wrote together called "The Night Sky" and I can't think of a better way to end this post than with these lyrics:)
Woke to a bird song lucid and wild
hallelujah, from mother and child
Nothing welcomes the sun to the sky
like a bird song, like a bird song
Rolling river, drawn to the deep
going under and coming up clean
Nothing calls out a longing, a dream
like a river, like a river
Laying on my back in the tall grass
watch the sun pass and slowly disappear
This whole scene is so extravagant
and I'm the only one here
Oh, the night sky, blankets the earth
sweet harbinger of holiest birth
Nothing humbles or shows you your worth
like the night sky, like the night sky