Finding God in an Unseen Sunrise
Last year I was working in the Philippines for the Jesuit study abroad program called Casa Bayanihan and we had taken the students to get away for a three day silent retreat at a beautiful retreat house on the Laguna de Bay. I was particularly looking forward to spending time near the water and experiencing God in the surrounding nature. I am originally from San Diego, California and have grown accustomed to seeing spectacular and awe-inspiring sunsets and have even on occasion been fortunate enough to spot the elusive "green flash." I consider these moments to be glimpses into God because of their beauty and the peace that seems to exude from a setting sun. Something that weekend, however, was calling me to the other end of the day and encouraging me to seek out a sunrise. I had often heard about the beauty of sunrises and all the colors that fill the sky, but had never gotten up early enough with the intention of watching a sunrise. I spoke with the manager of the retreat house and she advised me to wake up around five in order to see the full sunrise.
I like to consider myself a "morning person," yet there was something about that early wake up call that made me question whether a sunset, which is at a totally reasonable hour, would be enough to experience God. Still, I persisted and set my alarm clock for five a.m. and groggily got out of bed around 5:07. I walked over to our meeting room and saw one of the men sweeping off the porch and whistling a happy tune that I didn't recognize. Surely, this was a sign that I had made the right decision in getting up. When he saw me he smiled and told me that there was coffee inside and offered me a cup, which I took to be another sign of the good things to come. Once I had poured myself a cup of coffee, I walked out onto the dock next to our meeting room that extended about fifty yards into the bay. At the end of the dock were three little huts with benches that I figured I could sit on as I watched the sun rise over the bay.
I settled in, cup of coffee in hand and began to pray in the darkness. I gave thanks for the retreat, for the beautiful location, and for the people I was with. I asked God to be with me as I struggled with the severe injustices and poverty that I was encountering in the Philippines. I asked God to guide me in my actions to best accompany those in my community. I prayed that I feel consoled and inspired by the sunrise and that it help me to feel connected to my family and friends back home who were still in the middle of their day. The prayers went on and on and I felt very peaceful just looking out at the city skyline beyond the bay and listening to the water splash around the posts of the dock. As I was gazing over the water towards Manila and the dozens of high rises along the skyline, I realized that everything around me had become a little bit lighter. I searched the horizon for the yellow circle of the sun but could not locate it anywhere, and yet everything around me looked as though the sun had indeed already risen.
Now, I continued to look for longer than I would like to admit before finally realizing the problem: I had been looking the wrong way the whole time. I slowly turned around and there was the sun, already completely risen over the hills on the other side of the bay. My first reaction was true disappointment. I felt jipped. I wanted to see the sun and the colors around her as she rose over the skyline. I wanted to lose my breath in the beauty and be struck by God's great goodness. I wanted the moment, the picture, the story of how I found God in the most beautiful of sunrises. Suffice it to say I didn't get what I wanted, but after some reflection I realized that I had actually experienced something much more realistic and poignant for my faith journey.
Sometimes I set out with the best intention yet desiring a very specific outcome. Most of the time I find myself facing the completely wrong direction and I "miss" whatever it was I thought I desired. Yet, just as the sun illuminated all that was around me even though I never saw her, so too does God touch everything in my life without me even realizing God is there. I woke up early the following day, this time facing the right direction, and I saw truly the most beautiful sunrise I could have ever imagined. It was everything I had been told and even more and there was no doubt in my mind that God had created it. Still, I continued to think back to the previous morning and felt even more grateful that I had been able to experience God in a much less grand way because then I knew that I didn't have to be on a retreat or in a beautiful location to feel God's presence. I pray that my experience of the unseen sunrise continues to touch my heart and inspire me to find God in all of the miraculous and the even more numerous yet totally average moments of each and every day.