The sun does not pop up in the morning or fall down in the evening. Sunrises and sunsets occur gradually. And they do not happen only once, but in a daily cycle that brings variety and enrichment to the basic process. Within the slower movement there may be key moments, but they are never isolated from what precedes and follows.
Our souls are formed the same way. We may have moments of memorable experiences with God, but they occur in larger and slower experiences. As we discover the sunrises and sunsets in our souls, we come to view our formation in broader, more-expansive and recurring ways. Words often used to describe this are ‘contemplative’ and ‘mindful.’
In much of North American Christianity, we have developed an event mindset–a 24-hour retreat, a three-day conference, or a six-week group study. We experience good parts, but keep them isolated from the sacred whole.
We need to move into the sunrise/sunset pattern in which we gaze and ponder the larger rhythms and patterns. We need to practice attentiveness to our broader life, for it is there that we discern the things God is calling us to receive (sunrise) and relinquish (sunset). And from this larger view, we can incorporate specific means to more fully engage and experience what God is doing in and through us.
With this kind of attentiveness, we also discover that our most formative experiences unfold over time–they mature through repeated manifestations. For example, we are not born again only once, but repeatedly as death gives way to life in multiple aspects of our lives. Likewise, we are not filled with the Spirit one day, but every day as the Water of Life flows like an artesian spring into us.
A look at the saints in Scripture and tradition show them to be sunrise/sunset people–people who are formed over the long-haul, not the short-run. Paul’s dramatic encounter on the Damascus road is set in his larger “I have run the race” perspective.
So, we must devote ourselves to that long obedience in the same direction–to the video of the spiritual life, not simply the snapshots. There is a wideness in God’s mercy and a slowness to God’s grace. Watch the sun rise and set, and learn that God is working the same way in your heart.