I watch the sunrise…

Sunrise, Turvey Village

Over the past few years I have begun to discover anew the power of watching the changes in the morning light and the breath taking beauty of the sunrise. This morning I was able to take an early walk on one of my usual routes through a field. Today it struck me that no two early morning skies will ever be the same. Each day the light, colours, shapes and clouds will make a unique sky. It’s as though the sky tells a story of the unique potential of each day.

As I walked along, I turned over in my mind some thoughts that I have been gathering on the Benedictine understanding of ‘seeking God’. I have come to see the Benedictine search for God as an expression of the deepest yearnings of the human heart. Our ancestors searched for meaning in the ordinary stuff of their lives and particularly in the forces of nature. From poetic fragments, artwork and monuments, we know that the sun has always been a source of fascination. I remembered being very moved as an 11 yr old when I began to have lessons in Classical Background Studies and we learnt about Akhenaten’s Hymn to the Sun:

You arise beauteous in the horizon of the heavens
Oh living Aten who creates life.
When you shine forth in the Eastern horizon you fill every land with your beauty.
You are so beautiful: you are great; gleaming and high over every land.
Your rays embrace the lands and all you have created;
You are Re and reach out to all your creations, and hold them for your beloved Son.
You are afar, but your rays touch the earth;
Men see you, but know not your ways.

I knew little of the Psalms then, but now see clearly the parallels with Ps 104. I hear in these ancient texts the cries of human longing. I do believe that every human heart longs for a connection with something or someone bigger than themselves. Every human heart asks the questions: Where have I come from? What is my purpose? Where am I going? Many will never find a path that helps them explore this. Many will need someone to believe in them before they dare take a step on the traditional paths of faith. And then there are those, like myself, who haven’t needed to search out a path as it has all been laid out before them, those first steps taken on their behalf by their parents.

Just as I was nearing home I found myself trying to remember the words of ‘I watch the sunrise’. I must have sung this 100s of times in school. It’s a simple a text and one which I memorised quickly as a child. There is something about the narrative shape that is in itself comforting:

I watch the sunrise lighting the sky,
Casting its shadows near.
And on this morning bright though it be,
I feel those shadows near me.

But you are always close to me,
Following all my ways.
May I be always close to you
Following all your ways, Lord.

I watch the sunlight shine through the clouds,
Warming the earth below.
And at the mid-day, life seems to say:
I feel your brightness near me.

For you are always close to me,
Following all my ways.
May I be always close to you
Following all your ways, Lord.

I watch the sunset fading away,
Lighting the clouds with sleep.
And as the evening closes its eyes,
I feel your presence near me.

For you are always close to me,
Following all my ways.
May I be always close to you
Following all your ways, Lord.

I watch the moonlight guarding the night,
Waiting till morning comes.
The air is silent, earth is at rest
Only your peace is near me.

Yes, you are always close to me,
Following all my ways.
May I be always close to you
Following all your ways, Lord.

I love the simple progression in the last line of every verse: shadows, brightness, presence, peace. My spiritual path might have led me to books, people and places that appear a good deal more sophisticated than this simple hymn, but I see my spiritual experience very clearly here. There’s a progression in the chorus too: but you are always, for your are always, yes, you are always. This progression is not unlike the dynamic of a psalm of lament.

Today is the 20th anniversary of my Solemn Profession and over the years there has certainly been ‘shadows, brightness, presence, peace.’ As I reflect on my experience since Solemn Profession there are verses from Lamentations which come so quickly to mind:

The favours of the Lord are not all past, His kindness is not all exhausted; every morning they are renewed; great is his faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

That promise of favours and kindness renewed each morning was writ large in the sky for me this morning. Deo gratias.

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