A few weekends ago we were out camping with some friends. One morning my buddy and I woke up early, hopped on the quad, and drove some 20-30 minutes to access a hidden lake in the middle of seemingly nowhere. As we drove up the hill to the lake, the scene we beheld was surreal – the water was glass, the air was crisp, standing at attention, holding its breath. The trees looked down on us, roused from a night’s sleep, nervous of our visit and what we might think of them, noticeably proud of all they had to offer. We launched ourselves into a small aluminum boat that had been stored on the shore, using a few old planks to paddle us out into the other side of the lake, where the fish were said to abound. And did they abound! Within an hour we had caught our limit of speckled trout. To understand the extent to which this moment was perfect you need to know that I am generally a terrible angler. A friend of ours always says, “This is why they call it fishing and not catching” – the sentiment has proven true far more often in my life than my ego can handle admitting. Yet I keep coming back to the sport because you just never know what your luck might bring that day, which is the fundamental draw of fishing to begin with. That, and the fact that lounging in a boat with a cold drink in hand, a line in water, and feet up can justifiably be called a sport and anyone “playing” it is, by extension, an athlete. But I digress. Catching our limit that day just seemed to be what was needed to put me over the top.
Yet I couldn’t get over the top. In fact, I’ve never been able to. I realize this sounds melodramatic, but sometimes I feel a tinge of anxiety when I’m in the midst of such beauty, which I know, is the polar opposite response one should be having in such moments. Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not experiencing any serious physiological reaction to my surroundings. I don’t get shortness of breath or feel my heart race or anything. It’s not like that. It’s more of an anxious awareness, I suppose, arising from a sense of my limitations in taking in the fullness of the moment – does that make sense? It’s like breathing in the crisp air, watching the trees reflect on the glass lake, and reeling in a perfect trout aren’t sufficient. I want to somehow enter into this on some deeper dimension than I don’t even know how to even articulate, and I just can’t.
I get that you might roll your eyes at this and call me ungrateful for what are clearly divine gifts handed to me. I can appreciate that because I feel the same way about it myself. I’m very aware of the impact of deconstructing this. So I don’t focus on it too long – suffice to say I didn’t spend the whole trip in the boat on the verge of an existential crisis. I got over it because that’s what you do if you want to enjoy the moment at all. But my original response, this anxiety that comes from being in the midst of these moments is indicative of something else, and I actually think it’s good for us to do go through this. Hear me out.
I can’t get “over the top” because I’m not designed to. Or at least I’m not currently designed to. That, or I am designed to but both me and this world are broken, in need of restoration. And until that restoration occurs, there will forever be limitations, boundaries, restrictions on my ability to experience the fullness of the beauty and wonder that the created order has to offer us. Accepting our limitations is humbling – humans seem to think they have the capability of literally conquering the world, of experiencing all that there is to experience, and so we go to pursue this, only to find our hearts longing for something more, something beyond, and hence the anxiety ensues. But being aware of these limitations can only be good for the soul. When we recognize our limits, we recognize what we are – and Who we’re not. C.S. Lewis wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” You and I are created beings, subject to a Creator, part of a larger creation, designed for a world without limits yet confined to this one. Catching trout on glass water speaks this more clearly than any other experience I know.
Speaking of Lewis, I read Weight of Glory a few years ago and was profoundly struck by a particular paragraph. In fact, I was so taken by it that I did the only thing I knew to do and that was to type it out, and insert it into a cheap picture frame along with a photo of a flower or something and then hang it on our kitchen wall. It was, admittedly, a tad pretentious looking back. But my response to Lewis’ writing captures what I’m getting at here. Whether it’s beauty or truth, we can’t encapsulate it or quantify it or hold it even – it’s just beyond our reach. We want to experience it more than just some sort of a respectful mental nod and tip of a hat. But we just can’t. So we cut it out and hang it on the wall, projecting our own limitations to it and thus tricking ourselves into thinking it is somehow more attainable. All that aside, the quote itself refers to exactly what I’m getting at here:
“At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”
We can’t mingle with the splendour we see – we can just behold it. That’s it. But that’s not how it’s always going to be. This sounds kind of sappy, but it speaks of God’s love in really majestic ways. It’s like he has given us this amazing gift and try as we might, we just don’t have the capacity to enjoy it. We can concede to its beauty, we can acknowledge its wonder, we can even experience a taste of it, in the most surreal moments of our lives, but we can’t enter into it. We can’t experience it fully. But God is saying, “Just wait…” I’m not sure I’ve read a more hopeful and apt description of the new heaven and new earth than these few lines from Lewis. To have every sense of anxiety diminished and every longing fulfilled is surely to experience something completely otherworldly.
Until then, I’m going fishing.