I recall all you have done, O Lord;
I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
They are constantly in my thoughts.
I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.
Most years around this time I'm able to get south for a few days on a silent retreat. My time consists of very few things. I read, journal, and pray. I take my days slowly. I move my body. And I spend time enjoying the natural world. And God renews me and prepares me for the year ahead.
Of my trips over the years, last year might have been my most profound experience of natural beauty (except the 2019 run-in with an angry alligator). I was out birding, sprawled out on the ground with my camera lens along a marsh line. And all of a sudden all these extraordinary birds started approaching me. Wood storks (pictured below), roseate spoonbills, tri-colored herons, and sandhill cranes, all within several feet as I held my breath and clicked the shutter as quietly as I could. I got some beautiful photos. But I also remember feeling the presence of the creator in that moment, God's beauty and peace with such vivid detail that a sense of well-being washed over me. During those minutes, I was able to receive the beauty of God's world, but also capture some small glimpse of it to be shared with others.
The next day I traveled home. And then life got busy. And each time I meant to go back to process those pictures on my camera, something came up. So they just sat there, on a memory card, unprocessed. Spring came, then summer, then fall, then winter.
That experience came back into my head again recently. I've been thinking about this for a few weeks, so I was surprised this morning when I finally plugged the sd card into my laptop and saw that these pictures were taken exactly one year ago to the day that I'm writing this (Wed).
There are so many things that go unprocessed in our lives, aren't there? The pace of society and the never-ending spray of news and social feeds support the myth of constant urgency and zero margin. And because of it, significant moments in our lives come and go, remaining unprocessed.
We often highlight the fact that we have unprocessed trauma and negative experiences which need to be addressed in order to experience healing. So true. But the same can be true about the things that make our hearts sing. These are the moments where we sense the Spirit of God close at hand. They are the times where we notice ourselves being full of peace and joy, the absolute best versions of who we were made to be. All too often, we don’t sit down to remember, to process what brought us to that point, or what God might want to do as a result of it. And as such, a lot of the beauty is left on the table, and it doesn’t result in the transformation and encouragement that it could. Maybe we need to slow down and take the extra time that we don’t feel like we can afford, in order to process what is sitting back there in the memory of our minds.
The scriptures are full of God's people pausing to reflect on stories of God's beauty and God's deliverance in their own lives. The Psalms are a brilliant example of taking time to personally process both pain and beauty. And as the experience is reflected on, the gratitude becomes deeper, the faith becomes richer, and (I would suggest) the eyes become keener for the work of God the next time.
Because I haven't taken time to process those old pictures, the beauty that was captured has been limited. If I would sit with the experience and do a bit of meaningful work, I might be inspired to be even more intentional in seeking out that sort of gratitude-inspiring beauty. I'd also be able to move into the next phase: sizing them right, framing them right, and sharing those moments with others.
When we sense a thin place in our spiritual journey, where God is close at hand, may we learn the practice of pausing and processing. May we pay attention to the moments that we are the most alive, and invite God to teach us why he created us in such a way. And may be able to walk from those moments looking for deeper rhythms of connection with God and love for others.
Jesus, help me make space to process the work you have done in my life.