Gawk Reflex

The first time my grandmother saw the Grand Canyon, she cried.

I can totally understand why now. I’ve heard about this gargantuan geological treasure my whole life, of course, but it wasn’t until recently that I saw it with own bewildered eyes.

We were on a long, epic road trip through New Mexico and Arizona with my family of six during the Christmas holiday. After a fun yet confining car drive, we parked at one of the many parking lots near the visitor center, bundled up for the cold weather, and headed through some snowy side trails toward the main South Rim Trail where the vista beckoned us.

It beckoned a lot of other people that day, too. Dozens of people like us were piling out of their cars and making their way to that unforgettable view.

Our family was giddy seeing all that magical white snow along the trails, but something even more breathtaking was just ahead. Every now and then we would catch a glimpse of vast openness through the trees.

The final bend, a quick scramble across the sidewalk, and there it was.




How can anything be this big?

Look at this!

Every picture or painting you have ever seen of it, any verbal description anyone could give you, is just a poor rendering of its overwhelming majesty. You just have to see it for yourself and let it take the breath out of you to be captured in the full experience. All those photographic, artistic or verbal representations are just peeps through a narrow straw, a small capture of its beauty and glory.

It didn’t disappoint. The Grand Canyon is one of the few things in life that simply can’t be overrated. From the moment I saw it, I just stood there, gawking.

We gawked all day, in fact. Dozens of pictures and family poses in front of several different scenic views were taken throughout an unforgettable day, until a gently colorful dusk when we had to get back on the road. 

I thought afterwards, how long has it been since something took my breath away like that?

A long time.

My soul desperately needed that touch with transcendence, something infinitely bigger than me. Something to make me and my problems seem very, very small.

I think that’s what those other people on that trail were trying to get to as well that day—transcendence.

There are two things in life that are never satisfied, according to wise king Solomon (see Proverbs 27:20). The eyes of man make that very short list. On the car trip home, I didn’t say to my kids, okay guys, we are done with vacations and road trips from here on out…we’ve seen enough. Instead, all that Arizonian beauty awakened in me a desire to see more beauty. I want see the Niagara Waterfall for myself and feel its misty spray in my face. I want to touch transcendence again in the nearer future.

Deep calls to deep in us, and it always will.

Is your soul feeling downcast right now? Let me give you some advice from Solomon’s God-seeking father, King David:

My soul is downcast within me;

Therefore I will remember you From the land of the Jordan,

the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;

All your waves and breakers have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,

at night his song is with me

a prayer to the God of my life.

– Psalm 42:6-8

You and I live in the parking lot. We’re usually surrounded by man-made stuff. Garages. Traffic. Computer screens. Cubicles. Stores.

Internally, we are slogging through our to-do list, troubleshooting problems, dealing with relational problems and working through our own emotional struggles…head down, just grinding through, every day.

Our souls are downcast because they are pointed downward most of the time.

Therefore I will remember you.

Time to take a trip from your tight and cluttered parking lot and move along those side trials until you find transcendence. Turn your soul heavenward and let His glory take your breath away. How long has that been?

Deep is calling to deep…can you hear those distant waves and breakers and will you let them sweep over you?

By day He is directing His love toward you.

Breathe that in until His song is with you in the night.

P.S. Here’s a fun video my creative daughter Ana made of our epic vacation:

— Mike O’Quin, author of Java Wake and Growing Desperate

Related Blog Posts: Glorious Whoa, Mr. Swan

Mr. Swan

Mr. Swan

My five-year-daughter Naomi and I recently went swan hunting along the banks of the Colorado River which flows through our fair city of Austin.

Before you notify the Humane Fowl Society, I mean “hunt” in the sense of looking for them to admire their majestic beauty. We were strolling along this river during half time at my daughter Ana’s lacrosse game. Her high school is located right next to this body of water which we Austinites call “Town Lake.” The hike and bike trails that run along its banks are an ideal location for strollers, joggers, bikers and swan hunters.

There is one swan we know of who makes his home on Town Lake. Once during another game’s half-time, we saw him floating on the other side of the river from where we stood, and we desired to get a closer look. We called out to him and pretended to throw something in the water, hoping he would think it was bread crumbs. He quickly paddled over, figured out he had been deceived, and left in a hurry. Naomi profusely apologized, calling out loudly after him, but I did get some good pictures. I know what you’re thinking…it’s mean to deceive swans.

During the next game’s half time we tried again, this time bringing actual bread crumbs. From across the river I think Mr. Swan looked up at us (it’s hard to tell for sure because they kind of look at you sideways), and didn’t bother to paddle over. Naomi screamed out her heartfelt apologies, “We’re sorry Mr. Swan!  We have bread this time!” But Mr. Swan wasn’t buying it.

Then this time, on Ana’s final home game, we brought with us more bread and even more determination. We went to our usual spot and didn’t see him. So we took a long trek to the foot bridge that overlooks Town Lake for a better vantage point and we saw him on the other side. We climbed through off-shoot trails to get to the bank on that side, and Naomi was very excited that swan feeding was imminent. But by the time we got there, he had decided to go back to the other side where we were previously. Nice play, Mr. Swan. You have taught us our lesson. The deceivers have now become the deceived.

It was nearing the end of half-time and we needed to be reunited with our family. Plus Naomi really had to go to the bathroom and she was refusing to use the nasty Porta-Potty’s that we had passed along the trails. It was now or never to get those bread crumbs to Mr. Swan.

We made our way back across the river, got as close as we could to Mr. Swan from an overlook point, and called out to him as usual. Mr. Swan looked up at us (again sideways, so hard to tell) and we started furiously throwing bread crumbs in his direction. He didn’t seem that impressed, even knowing that we had clearly changed our ways and were throwing authentic bread crumbs before his royal audience.

There were already other people at the overlook point, all of them enjoying Town Lake at sunset. We interrupted them all with our frantic swan calling and bread crumb throwing. There was s couple on a bench whom I could tell had been arguing.  A hip Austin girl was sitting on the rocks at the water’s edge, strumming her guitar and jotting down lyrics to a song that she was writing in her notebook. There were also some tourists taking pictures.

But then something magical happened, something that made little Naomi start jumping up and down with glee. Mr. Swan gently glided over to where we were, ready to receive our offerings. The couple stopped arguing. The musician stopped strumming. The tourists gasped and started taking even more pictures. And Naomi and I couldn’t have been happier.

I heard an insightful friend once remark that he wasn’t surprised more and more people consider themselves atheists as we live in such a man-man world.  We drive our smartly engineered cars to our steel offices, work in cubicles under florescent lighting, stare at computer screens all day, drive home through dense traffic, click open our automatic garage doors, then sit on our comfortable synthetic sofas and turn on a man-made box which delivers us entertainment.  Barely one whisper of the glory of creation, day in and day out.

The ancients, by comparison, lived their entire lives surrounded by creation. Their days were framed by sunrises and sunsets. The seasons of sowing and harvest tied them to the rhythms of the earth. They felt the sun’s heat on their backs, splashed cool water in their faces from streams, and walked along mountain ridges under pastel skies. They tended their own animals, farmed their soil with their own hands and helped deliver their own babies. At night they would look up in wonder at the starry hosts and feel a tug of worship in their souls.

To them, Paul’s argument to the believers in Rome would make sense: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made…” (Romans 1:20, NASB).

There on the banks of Town Lake, a delicate creature which could only have been thought-up by a wondrously creative author, something straight out of a fairy tale, awestruck a group of strangers and made them all stop what they were doing.  The beauty of creation points in one direction, toward a loving Creator.  God didn’t have to create swans, but they brought delight to His heart and He wanted to share them with all His children.

I don’t know about the other people in that moment, but for me I couldn’t help but thank the Master Creator of this gentle creature which brought such delight to my daughter’s heart.  And I said to myself, I need to go out of my way more often to sense these gentle, glorious whispers from His heart.

Thanks Mr. Swan.

— Mike O’Quin, author, Java Wake and Growing Desperate