I was instantly smitten with alpenglow. It was a love at first sight.
It became a love of a deeper sort when I read John Muir’s assessment of it, which he penned as follows:
“… a rosy glow, at first scarce discernible, gradually deepened and suffused every mountain-top, flushing the glaciers and the harsh crags above them. This was the alpenglow, to me the most impressive of all the terrestrial manifestations of God. At the touch of this divine light, the mountains seemed to kindle to a rapt, religious consciousness, and stood hushed like devout worshippers waiting to be blessed.” (John Muir)
After reading this passage, it struck me that alpenglow was indeed a manifestation of God, but that it also might be a manifestation of a sermon God wishes us to be reminded of anytime we encounter this phenomena.
Among a variety of definitions that can be applied to alpenglow is the understanding that it is simply ‘redirected light’. When the sun is still below the horizon, air-born particulates in the clouds or atmosphere reflect sunlight onto a scene that would have otherwise passed by overhead. Alpenglow is typically tinged red or orange because the sunlight is passing through more atmosphere than it does when the sun is overhead, which filters out the blue wavelengths first, leaving an intensity of warm hues.
The experience is captivating, should you take the opportunity to pause and behold it. The mountain becomes several different versions of itself within minutes, and yet the change occurs so gradually that the difference can only be noted in hindsight.
The peak is, of course, still the same peak. But it is also made different by the light which is reflected upon it. In this slow removing of shadow, hidden components of the mountain come to life. When shrouded in darkness, there are characteristics of the mountain that lay hidden from view. And, without the redirected light, these things remain unknown to us as the viewer, but maybe unknown to the mountain itself.
While enraptured by this experience a few days ago, it struck how very similar the mountain’s gradual transformation by redirected light resembles our own transformation in our relationship with God. Maybe this isn’t the case for you, but it is most certainly the case for me. I often find myself frustrated by the apparent permanency of certain personality weaknesses, or repetitive sins. I am aware of these things that are part of my inner landscape and wish to be rid of them. Yet, I cannot seem to will them away. I often see and understand myself as perpetually in the shadow of those things. I want, but have yet to experience, a lightning bolt moment of change.
However, God occasionally presses me to sit down in my memories, and to look back at the version of myself I was a few years ago – or even a few months ago in some cases – and I can see then that I am not quite the same creature I was before. The change in myself, just like with the Alpenglow on the mountain peak, is so gradual that I was not able to see it happening. I could only perceive it in hindsight. Just like the mountain, I’m still the same person, but some shadows have been slowly slipping away from my frame, revealing new components of myself that were there all along, but lay dormant and hidden from view. These things remained unknown to the outside world, but to myself too. As 2 Corinthians says:
“if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation”
and each day we are becoming (although perhaps imperceptibly) something just a little bit new.
And truly, just like the mountain, we each stand as a stage for redirected light to play across. We each are a canvas on which God is already reflecting His light on, for others to behold. Indeed, you might be a place where someone first is captivated by such a light. As Matthew 5 says (and I am paraphrasing here) if we let our light shine before others (even subconsciously) then the good works we do give glory back to our Father Creator.
I know for me is almost impossible to believe that any light could find a habitat in which to dwell within me. I’m a fallen, broken creature. I feel myself as a terrain with no reflective surfaces for light to delight in. But I’ve seen God reflected in you dear reader. I’ve encountered God in the words and deeds of both long-time friends, and passer-by strangers. So this means, of course, that this truth applies to each (which includes you as well, don’t you try to disbelieve it). You too operate as a space for others to experience the light of the Lord.
We often cannot see this light in us, as surely the mountain itself cannot see the same dance of blushed hues that are brushed across its face with the Alpenglow. What a shame it cannot perceive this beautiful gift it provides. But the observer of the mountain, and the observer of us, can encounter the delight of light that is captured there.
If you should be so lucky to encounter alpenglow, please you take the opportunity to pause, and to consider the ways in which there is also a slow stripping away of shadow in your own life, gifted to you through God’s redirected light.