Feeling Small

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Nearly a year ago Becca and I got married. We had a magical honeymoon in Ireland, after which I wrote this reflection:

Stereotypical Ireland turned out to be true: pubs flowed with Guinness and Smithwick’s (don’t pronounce the ‘w’ or the waitress won’t understand you… so I’ve heard) where patrons watched the Eurocup in small, quaint towns. Small cars raced around narrow roads through brilliant landscapes of hills in every shade of green. Atlantic Ocean waves crashed into monstrous cliffs to create ridiculously beautiful coastlines. Cloudy, windy, and mist-rainy days only heightened the sense of being in a mystical land deeply rooted in ancient history and culture, with a spiritual connection to the land often lost in the modern world.

Sitting in front of a computer in a city of a young country, it’s difficult to sink into the enormity of this world and its billions of human inhabitants who have been around for thousands of years, while the land continues ever on and the waves continue to crash against the rocks.

But standing in the center of a stone circle in Ireland, said to be set up 3,000 years ago, I couldn’t help but let the awesomeness of that idea take root in my mind. People were there – in that very spot – 3,000 years ago. Questions bombarded me – Who were these people? What was their life like? What did they believe about the world, God, and themselves? Whoever they were, they lived their lives and then they moved on.

While most people were sharing saliva with those who kissed the Blarney stone before them, we were exploring the ancient grounds – the dolmen, and the playfully (or rightly) named druid’s cave, witch’s hut and fairy glade. We were also reading about the history of Blarney castle, detailing the various rulers of the castle and their untimely demise, or retreats while others attacked. 600 years ago battles were waged for land, power, survival or the whims of prideful kings. What difference did those games of thrones make, I wonder? What difference do they make today?

On one hand Ireland made me feel small and unimportant. People 3,000 years ago lived and died and left but a remnant of their world for us to see. 600 years ago wars were waged that seem to have little bearing on my life today. In my own mind, my life is of vast importance. Yet like those who lived before me, I’ll live and die and others will come after.

On the other hand, Ireland gave a sense of deep connectedness. We stood in a church, silent, yet holding the prayers and worship of hearts and minds for centuries before us. We walked the walls of castles that saved or took the lives of individuals, but may have changed things forever. How would things be different if one of my forebears had not crossed the Atlantic from Ireland? Would I even be here today? Maybe, like all lives before me, there is incredible importance to my life. Maybe there is a great story being written in which I play some small, yet crucial part.

So which is it? Ireland has provoked in me a choice of how to see the world:

Either our lives are rather meaningless, small and unimportant in the vastness of the universe and its awesome history. I will pass sooner or later, life will continue without much change.

Or, in our connectedness, our lives are of utmost importance. The small choices we make each day affecting not only ourselves and our neighbors, but the whole created order and the multitude of lives yet to come.

Both of these seem possible. And maybe this touches on a great paradox in life. In the vastness of the world we are reminded how small we are, and we remember our Creator. And in the world’s interconnectedness we see our vast power to affect history.

Whatever the case, Ireland convinced me of this simple truth:

We live in a beautiful world.

Yet amidst this beauty are wars, nuclear weapons, environmental degradation, disease and a host of other symptoms of brokenness. While we may be small and of little significance to all of history, we seem to have great power and can bring great ruin. With each action, each choice, we can choose to add to the incredible beauty of this world, or to destroy it. The future, and God, will judge the extent of our impact.

 

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