It was just before four in the morning when the talking outside the tent became too much and I just had to crawl out to discover what was going on. The eastern sky was pale blue but the valley below was still in darkness.
Then it happened! The next peak seemed to catch fire as the first rays of dawn struck the glacier and the snow and ice glowed deep red, then pink and orange. Of all the spectacles in the world, few can be as beautiful or as breath-taking as a sunrise over the Alps. That memory from almost 40 years ago always comes back when I am under canvas once again, or spend any time in the mountains . With it come the words of the Psalmist,
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1)
One evening on a different camp we all went up on a hilltop in pitch darkness, so far from towns that there was no glow of streetlights reflected in the sky. It took some minutes for our eyes to adjust to night vision. Only then did we discover that the ground was not completely dark. The chalk stones were luminous white, and for the first time I saw a field alive with the cold green fires of glow-worms.
The clouds cleared and looking up I saw the panorama of the night sky. The stars appeared the brighter because there was no moon. The sense of the vastness of the universe and the insignificance of man was overwhelming. And I recalled that the Bible describes God as ”the Father of the heavenly lights.” (James 1:17).
There, away from people and traffic, there were only the sounds of the insects and the night animals and the distant sea and the wind. And in the silence God could begin to speak. Such experiences of the beauties of nature may be common to country folk. But to town and city-dwellers they are rare and very precious. We are so used to surrounding ourselves with people and noise and the things man has made. We feel so much more secure when we are shielded from the elements in our safe warm dry homes in the middle of lots of other people and houses.
The science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov has painted a chilling picture of where this may end. He describes a future of vast underground cities, where the inhabitants of these `Caves of Steel’ are too terrified to go up to the surface. They simply cannot cope with the sight of the open air and the sky and the sun. Those who live in large cities and especially in high-rise blocks can already understand such a sense of insulation from the natural world.
But separated from nature, we may also be distanced from its Creator, who is our Maker too. We can hide away from God in our man-made buildings and the bright lights of a busy town. It is much harder to ignore God when his glory shines through a spectacular sunset or the majestic star-filled sky or a glow-worm’s beauty.
Sometimes God seems hard to find. If so, try looking for Him in the world He has made.
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:1-4)