Hidden in Plain Sight

It was early September. We had just missed the wildflowers in Tuolumne Meadows; they had gone to seed only a couple of weeks earlier. Yosemite’s Bridalveil Fall was now nearly a trickle compared to its mighty rush in May. And then there were the seemingly endless switchbacks climbing upwards, upwards through the forest. Lugging a heavy backpack and tent, I focused on pushing through while spurring on my companion who wondered why we had planned this strenuous seven-mile hike to a campsite above 10,000 feet. But outside the forest we were greeted by alpines lakes, sweeping green meadows, rocky peaks, and the occasional call of pikas and marmots. I had rarely experienced such utter beauty in one place.

Naturalist John Muir was enthralled with Yosemite, saying it was “full of God’s thoughts.” In his 1889 Atlantic Monthly article “The Yosemite National Park,” he described the area as “Benevolent, solemn, fateful, pervaded with divine light, every landscape glows like a countenance hallowed in eternal repose; and every one of its living creatures, clad in flesh and leaves, and every crystal of its rocks, whether on the surface shining in the sun or buried miles deep in what we call darkness, is throbbing and pulsing with the heartbeats of God.”

We arrived at our destination just before sunset exhausted yet “throbbing and pulsing” with joy. Nevertheless, when darkness descended, trepidation taunted me. The becalming pastoral blue and green landscape was no longer visible. Other groups were camping nearby, but I had never trekked this far into the wilderness.

Then slowly, one by one it seemed, star upon star illuminated our surroundings. Minutes later—could it be? I lay on the ground in awe as I watched the white brush of the Milky Way paint the night sky. Never had I seen such a glorious display of our galaxy with my own eyes.

Our amazing universe beckons us to look beyond our earthly existence. It radiates what the late sociologist Peter Berger called “signals of transcendence”—it hints of order and invokes wonder and play. The Milky Way whispered that night of a galaxy far beyond anything I could imagine. It was in the sky above my own backyard, too, but hidden in plain sight by streetlights and well-lit neighborhoods. (Nathan Rittenhouse discusses the subtle effects of light pollution in his creative article “Incomprehensibly Bright.”)

Our transfixed delight in awe intimates that we long to connect to something beyond ourselves, whether we look up to the heavens or the phones below our noses. We want to belong, to know, and be known. Surely, this search for transcendence—or arguably, for love—motivates the direction of our lives.

God cries out through the ancient prophets to look to Him, “the Maker of heaven and earth … He remains faithful forever” (Psalm 146:6). “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens,” God exclaims through Isaiah, “Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing” (Isaiah 40:26). Who is this God? He is the One who “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit” (Psalm 147:3-5).

Even the stars bespeak the wonder of God and the wideness of his love. God tells Abraham (here called Abram) in Genesis 15:5, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them…. So shall your offspring be.” Centuries later He gives the apostle John a heavenly glimpse of Abraham’s blessing fulfilled beyond measure: “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9) Who is this Lamb? “I am the Root and the Offspring of David,” says Jesus, “and the bright Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16).

The Maker of heaven and earth created us to worship Him, to reflect the radiance of his glory, and to enjoy Him forever. How amazing! Yet how often we live as practical atheists, even as God’s people, with our hearts and minds far from our Creator. God is to us like the Milky Way, right where we are but hidden in plain sight.

However, we need not go to the mountains and wilderness to find Him. Whether we know it or not, God is present in our suburbs and our prison cells, in our cities and our hospital rooms, whispering to each of us, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Who are those who find Him? “Those who are wise [who] will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).

Danielle DuRant is Director of Research & Writing at RZIM and editor of Just Thinking.

This article appears in the 27.2 edition of our award-winning magazine. Click the button below to download a PDF of this edition.

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