I have a very vivid memory as a kid laying flat on my back in the orchard in our front yard late at night immersed in awe staring at the northern lights. I was maybe 6 or 7 years old. The display filled the entire sky from horizon to horizon with undulating draperies of gloriously colored light. It was so bright, you could easily read a book under an otherwise moonless and darkened sky.
I know, because I ran inside, grabbed a favorite book, and quickly returned to prove it to my older brother who suggested that I give it a try.
The shadows from the apple trees captivated my attention. They were moving! I had never seen shadows of stationary objects move like that. They were gracefully dancing to the music being orchestrated in the skies above. It was eerie. The swirls of the glowing skirts of the heavenly angels made all of creation come alive and dance with them.
It lasted for hours and I remember falling asleep curled up with my cheek against the grass absorbed in wonder as the display faded to black with the stars and the Milky Way slowly reclaiming top billing on the night stage.
I slept deeply, peacefully, all night on the soft, fragrant grass serenaded by the comforting lullaby of crickets, and whip-poor-wills, and the occasional percussive hoot of an owl.
The next morning my father explained the science behind it all over breakfast. I don't remember exactly how I felt about that explanation, but I am pretty sure I felt it lacking. It couldn't just be charged particles from the sun interacting with the upper atmosphere of our planet. It was too beautiful for that … too organized … too God-like. Though trusting that my father was speaking the truth, I doubted the completeness of the explanation.
And I was right. My father was defining the "what" and some of the "how", but he could not answer this:
"Why does it do that, Daddy?"
And then he smiled and said, "I don't know. Only God would know that."
Underneath that science lies another layer of awe that is a little harder to get to. A mystical awe. The awe that comes when, as an adult, we once again seek to see and feel our world, and our Creator, and all of Creation with the eyes and heart of an unknowing child.
The northern lights, like God, are larger than any metaphor we try to squeeze them into. Each viewing is dramatically different. Each viewer, even though experiencing the same event, will have different ways of seeing them, of trying to describe them. We can never fully "know" the northern lights. The only way to truly experience them is through an awe-struck sense of unknowing.
And by experiencing God veiled behind that same mist of mystery, we are encouraged to keep from trying to cast God in our image.
But somewhere between our childhood and our adulthood, we lose our ability to be stunned to the core at the transcendent beauty of the unknown, don't we? We lose at some level our ability to know what cannot be fully known.
That unknowing child is still within me. I hold my beliefs loosely, lightly. I try not to grip. I try not to explain. I try not to comprehend fully … and yet I know. I know with my heart and soul what my mind cannot explain -- what my mind cannot fully know.
I know that something is beautiful even though my "beautiful" may be different than yours.
I know that I am loved even though I cannot adequately describe or define what love is or what love will cause me do to next.
We accept that Love cannot be fully known and we yearn to sit, speechless, in the presence of Beauty. It is much harder for us to similarly accept the undefinable, ineffable One who created both.
I pray we learn to stoke the fire
of that unknowing in our young children and encourage them to keep
those darling eyes wide open well into adulthood. I pray we teach
them to doubt, to be comfortable with “I don't know.” And to
accept other perceptions of what cannot be known as equally
valid, equally beautiful as their own.
I pray we teach our children that different is not wrong.
And to teach them that in seeking that diverse and even disparate beauty in their neighbors, they are seeking the beauty of God.