That picture there, the one above, as pretty as it is, does not do justice to what I actually saw, what I experienced, when I took it. Like all photographs, this one is a moment – an instant, a mere split second – frozen in time. It has been cropped and adjusted a bit, in the same way we crop and adjust all of our memories. You might enjoy the scene. I hope you do, but it leaves out so much. For instance, because of my inadequate photography skills, I couldn’t capture the magnificent streaking gold and yellow of the sunset just over to the right of this image, It was magnificent, but I had to choose between the green pasture or the golden sky. Tough choice to be sure. this image, won’t let you hear the ducks that were flying over head, softly honking as they sped off to wherever it is that they go at night. You can’t hear the hooves that pounded sod as I approached . You can’t hear the snorting or mooing. This photo doesn’t carry with it the pleasant scent of the blooming flowers in the field behind me, nor does it allow you to feel the gentle breeze that brushed my face. This photograph, might move you beyond this particular moment and cause you to recall something similarly pleasant in your own memory. I hope it does. But it was so much more to me.
For me, this photo is almost an after-thought. I almost didn’t take it. It’s a picture of the field next to my church. There’s nothing particularly unique about this field. It’s one of probably a hundred others just like it nearby. I drive by it, and many of the others, several times a week. You might think, exposed to such beauty often as I am, I would come to a place where I took this sort of pastoral tranquility for granted, but I really haven’t. I don’t often stop to actually ponder it, but I most often do, at least consciously appreciate the beauty that is so regularly a part of my life. Last night, though, I did reflect upon it. There, in the midst of all that beauty and teeming life I had a “God moment.” I thought this time, “I am gonna take a picture and share it.” Doing this caused me to think about this moment all the more.
Surely you know about that to which I refer, these “God moments,” I mean. Whether you are, as I am, a believer in God or not, I know you’ve had moments like I did last night when I gazed at that field. Whether you believe there is a Divine Creator or not, I know, you’ve stood on a beach somewhere, or stared at a clear night sky away from the city, and thought of how small you are. Surely you’ve heard a song so beautiful that you wanted to cry and weren’t sure why. But wherever you were, whatever you were doing, I feel certain you’ve been overcome with gratitude for the reality that you were where you were, and doing exactly what you were doing at that exact moment. I know too, that just as I did to that photo, you cropped it, adjusted it a bit, and saved that moment of yours in a special place. Perhaps you haven’t any need to ponder any further or deeper than the moment. Not so for me.
These moments are so blithe, so profound, so very wonderful. Moments such as are represented by this photograph, fill me with so much gratitude for everything, EVERYTHING. What you see in this photo, and what you don’t see, all of it requires me to think of my beautiful Kentucky, my beautiful America, my beautiful wife, my beautiful daughters, my chickens, my dogs, my health, Bach, Doc Watson, the plate I ate my breakfast from, my lovely little country church, my friends, all of it, EVERYTHING. And then I think: none of this was put here for me. It would exist even if I did not. I just happened upon it. All of it, everything I love, that I value, I just ‘fell into.’ It seems, as I enter the home stretch of my pilgrimage down here, that all of this wonder which surrounds me just sort of happened to me. I didn’t do much of anything to deserve any of it. The most credit I can reasonably take is that I didn’t do much to muck it up, or at least, not enough to muck it up beyond recognition. Those cattle, those fields, all of it, everything, have been a magnificent gift. All of this requires me to “thank” someone or some thing.
I have heard it said by some of my fellow believers in God that they just don’t see how the atheist survives the hard times. I suppose I agree with this, but in all honesty, suffering – my own suffering – is not something I do well, even though I believe in God. Fear challenges my faith in the Divine. When faced with suffering, though, I am grateful for what little weak faith I do possess, and it has helped me limp through some fairly awful stuff. But I’m led to believe that even the non-believer has ways of coping with suffering. They make it through somehow too. I’m not sure, in the final analysis, that my belief in the almighty gives me much of an advantage in the midst of suffering.
But suffering was not part of my contemplation as I looked at that field, by a road, near my little church. As I stood on the edge of that beautiful field, I contemplated the good, and the beautiful, and the timeless. I considered my profoundly valuable insignificance, your profoundy valuable insignificance. I then remembered the words of the German poet Von Schiller. These are the words Beethoven used at the climax of his Ninth Symphony, “Ode to Joy.” Von Schiller , who I am sure was inspired by something as I was by that field, was led to pen this timeless line “Brüder, über’m Sternenzelt muß ein lieber Vater wohnen.” In English it is rendered, “ Brothers over the Starry Canopy a loving Father must dwell. I was reminded and enormously satisfied that I could thank someone or some thing. I’m glad I wasn’t left to walk away from that moment thinking that the field was just part of some cosmic crap game. It was important for me to think it was gift to me, or someone like me, that it was put there on purpose. Like Von Schiller I too believe somewhere a Loving Father Dwells. I hold him responsible for the beauty around me. So Perhaps this writing may serve as a sort of “thank you” note.
Anyway I do think this is an asset, this reality of mine that I have someone to thank. That has to be an asset, to thank God. It is for me anyway, even if it only serves to make me happier. And, by the way, it does. Admittedly, this need to thank God may not be based in reason, but it is the only response which seems to make sense to Von Schiller and I.
One other thing. Whether it’s an “advantage” or not I can’t say, but believing in God does allow me also to not only live in beautiful moments such as the one I experienced last night, but it also points beyond that instant as well. It hints of something far more magnificent than I can imagine. Earlier this same evening, standing on the steps of my church, taking in the beauty and quiet of that special place, my solitude was interrupted by the arrival of a friend and Elder of the church. “How ya doin’ Brother Carl,” he asked. “Just Fine. Standin’ here takin’ all this in,” I said. “It’s somethin’ isn’t it?” “Sure is.” We both stood there for a moment, then he spoke again. “You know, I reckon Heaven’s gonna be even better than this, but I sure have a hard time seein’ it.” I was quiet. I really thought about what he said. I considered what Heaven might be like. Then I said, “I can’t really see it either, Brother. This is awful nice.” He nodded. “It sure is.” We left it there….for that moment….but you see, we both believe, he and I that we will see something better someday. We appreciate what we have, but think there might even be more.
I hope you enjoy the photo. I am very thankful to be able to share it with you. Whether or not you believe as I do, I have passed along “thanks” to the one who made it possible. Oh, and Happy Easter!