It was a cool August night, and I was laying in my hammock staring up in awe at a canopy of trees and starts. My younger brother and I were on a two-week backpacking trip through New Mexico and Arizona, and tonight we’re staying in the Coconino national forest. I knew when we woke up to hike the next morning I would regret having stayed up so late, but I couldn’t close my eyes because I didn’t want to miss what was going on around me. Creation was too beautiful to sleep at that moment.
Growing up, I lived close to my grandparents, who went to a tiny church in the country outside of Bangs, Texas. Around Christmas time, you could expect my entire extended family to show up, doubling the normal size of the congregation. Something about the stained glass windows, the comfort of being around people I loved, and the joy of singing Christmas songs together made this place sacred to me.
From the summer after my 6th-grade year through my time in college, at least once a summer I sat in an old barn on the side of a mountain and sang with brothers and sisters in Christ, trying to empathize with Christians experiencing persecution. I know I can’t even get close to understanding this. However, I always found it interesting that in the dark lighting and sober situation we were imagining to be in, people felt free to sing loudly and passionately. It felt like freedom.
Thursday, December 6th was our first secondary choir concert of the school year and my first secondary choir concert to direct! One of my favorite songs from the concert is “In This Place”, a piece written by British composer, Will Todd. It was commissioned for the 600th anniversary of the Durham school and performed in the Durham Cathedral, the place that inspired the text. I’m a word person, so the lyrics in music always stand out to me. One of my favorite parts in the text of this piece says, “In this place, I am light, in this place, in Your sight, I am made everlasting.”
Each of the places above is extremely significant to me. These are where I experienced God. I’m sure you have these types of memories too, where a certain place, person, or experience, elicited a spiritual, almost mystical, encounter with God. It’s really easy for me to compare my everyday life with these experiences, and feel far from God. Even more so, during times when I feel lost, purposeless, or heavy-hearted from the problems in the world around me, it’s easy for me to feel far from God.
Why do I feel this way? Did something change? The forest and stars are still there. My grandparent’s church is still there. Camp Blue Haven is still there.
It was never about the places themselves, only that in these places I experienced and acknowledged the presence of God. God is still there.
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39 NRSV)
“In this place, I am made everlasting.” Replace “this place” with anything. “In English class, I am made everlasting.” “In an unpeaceful political environment, I am made everlasting.” “In my friendships, I am made everlasting.” Even when we don’t recognize it, God is here. I personally want to be better at acknowledging that truth. Wherever you are, you can never be separated from the love or presence of God.