Editor’s note: This was written before COVID-19, but we think it’s relevant during this difficult week. Enjoy a brief diversion.
by Jim Killam | 4-minute read
Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.
— Luke 1:78-79
Everyone has their fantasy job. For me, it’s nature photographer. Driving and hiking in the dark to crazy places. Setting up equipment, then waiting for daybreak. Chasing light.
Actually, it’s more than that. It’s chasing glimpses of glory. Finding those places where the veil between heaven and earth feels especially thin.
Last year during Easter week, I was in Calgary working with Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada. Much as I love the people and the work there, I couldn’t wait until Thursday afternoon. That’s when I’d grab a rental car and drive an hour to Banff National Park. The mountains were calling, and I had 24 hours before my flight home.
The Trans-Canada Highway from Calgary to Banff gets better with each mile. Starting as distant silhouettes, the Canadian Rockies soon envelop you. I reached Canmore, a touristy little town that hosted the Nordic ski events at the 1988 Winter Olympics. The best-known landmarks here are the Three Sisters, a trio of jagged peaks that rise close together at the south edge of town.
Just off the highway, a dry creek bed leads a mile into the woods to one of the best views of the peaks. I scouted it Thursday evening, then checked into my motel and planned to come back at sunrise. If the weather cooperated, Good Friday’s first light would illuminate the Three Sisters.
Before bed, I checked the forecast on my phone. Not good. Clouds and rain all day. Maybe this whole excursion had been a waste of time. But in the mountains, you never know. I set an alarm, ahead of what might or might not be a sunrise.
At 6, I arose in the pre-dawn dark. The weather app showed only clouds and rain symbols, except for a sun at precisely 6:45. I took that only to mean the time the sun would rise on a clear day.
Hmm. Do I go get coffee and a doughnut, or take a cold hike in the rain?
Then I thought: Who knows when I’ll ever be back here?
So I drove to the spot and parked, then walked maybe 300 yards along the creek bed to the edge of the woods. Drizzle was already starting. Hiking a mile in and out to shoot pictures of fog and rain didn’t seem like a great use of my one morning in Canmore. So I stayed put, setting up the camera and tripod facing where the peaks were hiding. Maybe …
The gray sky brightened a little. Somewhere beyond all that gloom, the sun was indeed rising on this Good Friday morning. The drizzle slowed. I still couldn’t see the Three Sisters at all. Remembering where I was, alone, I turned and scanned for grizzly bears.
“Oh my God,” I said aloud, meaning it.
Behind me to the north, above the town, a single shaft of sunlight poked through the clouds. Mount Rundle had turned purple in the alpenglow. On a single peak, the April snow shone bright gold.
A dreary non-sunrise had just transformed into the most spectacular light I’d ever seen. My knees wobbled. I could hardly breathe.
Do I fiddle with the camera and try to capture this? Do I just stand in awe? A little of both. I got three shots (including the one above), then moved a few yards to a different angle and got three more.
What just happened?
Within seconds, it was over. Clouds obscured the sunbeam. The drizzle returned for the whole morning. I was the only person on earth who had just witnessed this magnificent scene from this perfect vantage point. Had I hiked for the picture I thought I wanted, I would have missed it.
Thirty minutes later I sat in a booth at Tim Hortons (Canada’s improvement on Dunkin Donuts), munching a maple pastry. I texted Lauren back home: “Wait until you see what I just saw.”
The photos do capture the light decently. What they miss is the dead silence. The vastness of the mountains. The chill of the drizzle. The surprise of that fleeting, glorious glimpse.
And, the overwhelming presence of God on a day that looked dark and hopeless. Good Friday, of all days.
What a gift.