the element of surprise

heaven, earth and the element of surprise

Mornings can be described accurately with one word: routine.

We’ve all said it at one point; that the sun sets and the sun rises and there’s nothing we can do about it. And yet, who can say they have never stood slack-jawed in the presence of a sunrise and thought, “I’ve never seen one like that before”? To see a great, fiery star crest the horizon and elevate into the empty sky, to see not only its light, but everything by it is an awe-inspiring experience. This morning I slept in a bit late, chose an ordinary work-appropriate outfit and filled my silver thermos with creamy coffee. I buttoned my coat, hugged my family goodbye and drove toward the office. The morning seemed unspectacular. I was winding down a paved road with pastures on either side behind a car I could only imagine was headed to another office. My hands were frigid on the wheel, my boots methodically pressing pedal and brake in around each curve. And then, out of nowhere (which must be a very exciting place indeed) came a buck.

Thankfully, both the driver ahead of me and myself were driving slowly enough that the regal creature was in no danger. He had leapt over a brushy fence and trotted lightly across the paved road to the other side. He stood in the grass there, whiskers illuminated by early glow, antlers like a fairy crown, and spun and bounded in a perfect show. The good person in the vehicle ahead of me braked and came to a halt. Perhaps they were afraid the deer would turn and cross the road again and were afraid of hitting it, but I’d like to think that everyone on that route felt the way I did, that we owed this animal a moment of our morning.

I was surprised by his regality and poise. I recently saw “The Nutcracker” performed in an auditorium. Professional ballerinas are graceful and mesmerizing, but they truly have nothing on a white-tailed deer. I was surprised by his willingness to perform. I was surprised by the ease with which he controlled his own body. Most of all, however, I was surprised by my own surprise. It felt like everyone on the road was caught in wild rapture by this beautiful beast, and yet a deer is a perfectly ordinary animal. We have deer everywhere in my area. Many locals hunt them annually and eat their meat. It isn’t uncommon to see one slain on the edge of a highway or mounted above a fireplace. They are commonplace and spotting them is routine.

So why then did we stop and stare the way we did? Perhaps it was the exquisite lighting which gave the buck an artistic silhouette. Perhaps it was the vigor with which he moved. Perhaps it was the early hour and our glassy, sleep-sought eyes. Somehow, I don’t think that is all there was to it. I think that, deep down, we believe we are immune to surprise when we are actually extremely susceptible to it. We yawn at violent movies, blink at old jokes. We have been-there-done-that and now we’re bored. The moon landing is old news, picture perfect beauty queens are dime-a-dozen and, for followers of Christ, His eternity-altering story is familiar and stodgy, if we’re honest with ourselves. We can argue that sunrises are beautiful and inspiring, but we can also walk past them with our eyes glued to a smartphone.

We are bored and nothing takes us by surprise, until a deer arabesques into our paths and we’re dumbstruck. Why does physical nature astonish us and the spiritual nature bore us? If an animal which my area is considered to be overrun with can make my mouth fall open, what would happen if an angel appeared before me? Would I not be like John, who fell down and worshiped a heavenly creature? I love how the angel responded to John, “Stop it. Don’t you see? I am a servant like you and your brothers and sisters, all who hold fast to the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 19:10, The Voice). You see, an angel is as common as a deer, yet we see them even less. Perhaps we do not see them because we don’t believe we will see them or perhaps do not believe because we have yet to see. Or, even more likely, we do not recognize them because we are not expecting them. We are not immune to surprise, we just look for boring things.

I don’t know how many more routine mornings I will experience before I see Jesus face-to-face, but I think I will respond like John, who “fell down as if dead.” I am unprepared for the glory of a sunset, a ballet performance on a stage or a single deer crossing the road ahead of me. How much less am I prepared to know the full truth of this universe outside of my place on this planet? And how many more surprises are prepared for those who have heard the good news? Our dusty Bibles are “alive and moving” (Hebrews 4:12) and our God is, not was.

Awake, O sleeper! Awake, she who thinks she is a “mature Christian”, but is bored with Christ! Awake, you whose emotions are disconnected from God! Awake, those who read about God and talk about God and especially those who write about God! You are like a girl who takes a picture of a sunrise and posts it on Instagram with the hashtag #glorytogod and never gives God the glory! You are bored with the Creator while you are hypnotized by His creation.

Look up from your iPad and be surprised by God. Look up from your planner and be surprised by love! Look up and be surprised that there is something ahead of you, something beyond this short commute! Flowers delivered to your door are not special because they are flowers; they are special because someone sent them. The first thing we do when we find a bouquet is to look for a tag. The flowers are only a token of someone’s love. This life is a token, this world is a token. Every leaping deer, every sweep of a ballerina’s hand, every stripe in every sunrise, is a token of Someone’s love. Have we not the curiosity to look for the tag?


  1. This is beautiful. Thank you. I feel I am just now rediscovering the daily surprises of sunrises and dancing deer, and I need the encouragement to look beyond the creation to the Creator.

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