I love this picture, and not just because it is of my children (though that is a big part of it). I love it because it captures a moment in time almost perfectly. It was July 1, 2014. We spent the day in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Alberta. We were advised to stay out of Banff National Park and away from the towns as extra visitors and parades were scheduled for Canada Day. In the afternoon we spent our time at Upper Lake in Kananskis country. The moment of bliss shared in this photograph tells the story of the afternoon. Joe skipped rocks. Mia jumped in frigid waters. All of us had a great time. Besides Tammie, her parents, my mother and the kids, there was hardly anyone else there. It was a near private lake in the mountains on a beautiful summer day as the country that hosted us was celebrating its national identity. Of our ten day adventure to see Banff National Park in Alberta and return to Glacier National Park in Montana, this was a side trip, not originally on the itinerary. Yet on that trip, it was my favorite day, captured here, by my kids at Upper Lake.
There is more going on in the picture than a moment on family vacation, however. In the background are the mountains themselves, formed by both the layers of sedimentary rock thrust upward by plate tectonics and the glaciers of the last ice age that carved them. Geologic time is vast and old and yet ever here in this captured moment those mountains are still being carved and shaped by melting ice and rivers cascading down them. In a million years, what will this location look like?
A perfect moment is captured here. Human interaction and the meaning attached to it; complemented by the forces well beyond our experience or control that form this landscape.
In the grand scheme of human history our time on earth is but a moment. We are born, live and die within a nanosecond of the age of the universe (if even that much). Yet we have the ability to impact the lives of others (positively or negatively) with amazing capacity. We attach meaning to relationships, actions, and the things that appear to be constant in our own experience. Human history and culture apply their subtle pressures upon us as well, providing context and perspective. Like a glacier slowly carving mountains, these forces at work in our own experiences shape who we are. Sometimes the detours carry the most meaning. Our self-discovery becomes like this snap shot – a picture of real people in motion caught against a seemingly static backdrop, but constantly in motion.
We tend to approach God as distant to our everyday experience, or at least static in the background. The glaciers that shaped these mountains remind me that nothing is permanent. Faith forms and shapes people over time by story, practice and wisdom, sometimes like a flash flood; other times like a glacier. At the center of the Christian story is the incarnation – God who enters time specifically in the human life, ministry, execution and resurrection of Jesus. Those who are shaped by this story begin to see it carving them by mercy, love and selflessness. We share that mercy, love and selflessness with others as we are weathered and made beautiful by that story.
I return to this image of my kids playing at the lake. It is a moment caught in time with joy and laughter against the backdrop of forces that will reach far beyond any of our life-spans when we will all be forgotten by the sands of time. Yet God calls out, “Do not fear for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1b). Perhaps we should stop trying to make our permanent mark on the world that will eventually pass away, and instead invest in the people around us who can feel our care now. The things we continue to discover and learn from Jesus – how to love, show mercy, forgive, welcome, and give ourselves away may be easily forgotten or ignored by the world around us, but to those we encounter in our brief moment captured in time, they might make the world of difference to the people we meet in real time.