I drove west on I-94 toward a destination I had only heard about. I wasn’t expecting much from the Badlands. Prairie rolled as far as I could see, wasted and barren in its pre-winter slumber. Its lack of intensity affected my psyche — I became tired, depressed and bored.
“I can’t take this anymore,” I thought, just before the road took a gentle turn to the northwest.
There it was. In an instant, I had driven from the prairie into a multicolored canyon. The ribbons of lively reds, intense golds and rich browns danced in front of me. My heart skipped a beat, and I began to cry. I wasn’t sure why, other than the sheer beauty and surprise of it all.
I remember the first time I saw the Rocky Mountains. I was a teenager on a road trip with my family. We drove and drove, all the while able to see the mountains in the distance. We could see our destination ahead of us the entire time.
The Badlands are nothing like that. There is no way to see them coming.
Often when I look to the future I see my “Rockies” coming and I grow in anticipation for events that will turn into personal spiritual mountains. My mind becomes occupied with anticipation of these spiritual experiences.
Unlike a mountaintop spiritual experience, the surprise of an unseen event — such as arriving suddenly in the Badlands — is much more life-changing.
When God promised us a king, through prophets of old, no one expected a baby. No one expected him to love the idea of peace rather than the thrill of conquering his enemies.
Jesus came in quickly, quietly and left our existence in a flash. I can only imagine that my tears of surprise in the depths of the Badlands canyon must have been shared by Jesus’ followers after Pentecost.
Oh God! What did you do for us?
We can chase our mountains and find what we’re looking for, only to discover it’s not what we really need. Sometimes we need to follow a promise of faith unseen. We need to travel without expectation[s] into the canyons of life-changing magnitudes. We need to move on from these experiences, let them change our hearts and then share with the world what we’ve learned.
I have no doubt that God created this crazy, messed-up world. With practice, we can train our spiritual eyes to see the beauty that lies underneath its broken pieces. Enter life’s canyons in humility and let God transform you with the unexpected. God’s gift of God’s presence is an unexpected promise in our day-to-day lives.
Like the Rockies, God dwells just out of our reach. Yet like those who come unexpectedly into the glorious presence of the Badlands, we are fully within God's all-encompassing grasp.
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers