June 7, 2006

Take the Summer Sunset Challenge

1516 page29 capne of the many good things about growing up Adventist and the way we keep Sabbath is an ongoing awareness of sunset. Whether it’s the notation on the bottom of the bulletin or small clock devices that show the sunset times for “This week” and “Next week,” respectively, the effect is a weekly reminder of sunsets.
The significance of this consciousness is not just for those waiting anxiously for the release of Sabbath “restrictions” that evening (an attitude many of us seem to have at some stage or another because of our immature religiosity) or for those who wish to be careful with their Sabbath preparations the following week. Perhaps most relevant is the reminder that each evening—or at least most evenings, depending on weather conditions—the sky brings down the curtain on another day, often with an extravagant splash of color and the dance of clouds and light. And most often it is ignored.
So let me suggest making time to watch the sunset as an introductory spiritual discipline. This summer, make the time and find a place—or places—to simply sit and watch as many sunsets as you can.
In Blue Like Jazz Donald Miller describes this practice as “one of the coolest things I ever did.” He explains: “This past summer I made a point to catch sunsets. . . . I made myself go. And once I got up there I always loved it. It always meant something to me to see beauty right there over my city. . . . On most nights there were no more than two or three people there with me. All that beauty happens right above the heads of more than a million people who never notice it.”
1516 page29The summer sunset challenge: Be one of the people who notice and who go out of their way to notice the beauty created so definitely but temporarily in the sky above us each evening.
For most people in temperate regions summer provides better opportunities for this kind of experience. It’s often a little more pleasant to be outdoors, and the later sunset times (especially with daylight saving time) mean it can be easier to organize oneself to be away from work or other responsibilities. The change of routine that holidays bring may also open opportunities for sunset viewing that may not otherwise fit into our schedules. If time is a challenge, perhaps begin with Friday or Saturday evenings—at the opening or closing of Sabbath—but also try to find as many other evenings as possible.
If possible, it would be good to find a regular vantage point from which to watch the sunset. Usually somewhere high or open will work best—a hillside, a beach, or a city park—but a backyard, balcony, veranda, or window might afford adequate views. If possible, find somewhere that can fit easily into your daily routine. If you commute from a place of employment around sunset, there may be a vantage point available with only a slight detour—and it might give the traffic time to clear. Find somewhere that will fit your circumstances, wherever you might be. If traveling, perhaps you could see in how many different places you can watch the sunset.
So what’s it about? First, take time to notice and enjoy the beauty. You don’t need an agenda. Just be there. (You may like to share the experience, but it would be best shared with someone who can share the appreciation of the beauty and the reverence associated with this practice.)
Catch your breath. For the few minutes of sunset and into twilight, choose not to be busy. Take time to think on the important things in your life, given the big context in which you find yourself—a small person under a big sky.
Let your mind drift toward your Creator. Prompted by the creation taking place in front of you, remember you are in—and that you live in—the presence of God. Enjoy that realization. Even if only for a moment, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Ps. 46:10). Perhaps the next reaction will be to pray. Share the moment with God and thank Him for His love and goodness.
Some sunsets will be spectacular, others less so. Some moments will be profound; others will be a useful few minutes of rest. But take the time to notice.
Nathan Brown is editor of the South Pacific Signs of the Times and the South Pacific Division Record.