On November 8th, 1991 there was a rare display of the aurora borealis in the cold, clear sky over our farmhouse in south central Ohio. I missed it because at that very moment our sixth child, a boy we named Daniel, was coming into the world. I will always consider that phenomenon a special sign from the Lord for good in Daniel’s life. The rare beauty of God’s magnificent creation exploded in the sky the very moment that our son Daniel was born.
When the last of autumn’s glory blows along the ground and bare branches jut into the gray November sky we will celebrate Daniel’s fifteenth birthday. About five years after his birth we moved further north from Ohio to Michigan. I have spoken in the Upper Peninsula and in northern Michigan and lived in Michigan for years but I have still managed to miss the rare and beautiful heavenly lights.
One morning after breakfast at a camp where I was speaking at the base of the Leelanau Peninsula in Michigan near Traverse City I stood and listened to my friend Bill Newman excitedly describe stopping his car in the middle of the night and getting out and standing with his face up-turned to the heavens drinking in a beautiful display of the aurora. I rejoiced with him and cursed by sloth. At that time I was deep in slumber beside a whirring air conditioner unit.
When James wrote of the good and perfect gifts that descend from the Father of Lights I assume he was referring to the sun-stars and moons in the heavens. I wonder if he had any conception of the wonder or the aurora borealis. They are a phenomenon unique to the north part of the northern hemisphere.
I keep a little journal I like to call “Reasons to Get Up In the Morning.” In it I keep a simple running list of things I would like to do some day, places I would like to go, books I would like to read or write, and experiences I would like to have. Near the top of that list is this; “I would one day like to see the aurora borealis, the northern lights.”
I have often repeated a simple prayer as I drove north for a week of meetings or a camp or a weekend retreat. “Lord if you would like to show you special love for me this weekend I would love to see a bear (from a safe distance), hear the call of loons on the lake, or see the aurora borealis.” So far I have heard the haunting call of the loon in the evening and in the morning on northern lakes, I have send the flight of eagles from a kayak on Wolf Lake and Shear Lake, but I have not yet been treated to a display of the northern lights.
One evening in mid-May of 2005 I was deep in the bowels of the Character Inn, in my cave-like sub-study reading and thinking in a chair when with no apparent prompting I thought again of the northern lights. Again I renewed my prayer that one day I would have a chance to see them. A few days later I was shocked to discover that at the very time If I had taken the elevator to the roof I would have walked out into a miracle of color, because at the very time God had sent a gift of light and color. I think it was for me and I missed it.
I’ve reflected on that and I think it may have been God’s way of saying; “I love you and I am just going to keep sending good things into your life, but you need to learn to listen to me.” I wonder what wonders we will miss until we learn to recognize the voice of the Father of Lights.
UPDATE: Last week we were in the Northwoods speaking for a singles retreat. The first night of the retreat I told the young men and women about my prayer that I would see the lights. October 1, 2006, after a long, fulfilling day of ministry, I was preparing for bed. Charles called to me from the deck of the house on Duck Point. The northern sky was alight over the lake. For the first time in my life I was looking on the Northern Lights. The stars and pale green streaks of light were reflected in the smooth surface of Wolf Lake. In the Northwestern corner of the lake a loon called over and over again as if it was calling my attention to the beauty of the night.
The display was modest compared to pictures I have seen, but an unmistakable answer to prayer. I wept and worshipped the Lord. For a moment I wondered why, if the Lord was going to answer by prayer to see the Northern Light, it wasn’t a more spectacular display. I suppose He wants me to keep coming back and keep gazing into the night sky, and keep my eye sharp, my ear ready, and my heart eager to his revelation.
There is no clearer revelation of Jesus than his written word, but I am a witness that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)
October 3, 2006