I felt like an alien.
It made no rational sense. I certainly bore the same essential form as the rest of the human beings I saw. I still lived in the good ol’ USA, not on another planet nor in some foreign country with its multitude of language and cultural barriers. But I could not fully shake this sense of alienation, after moving to Florida a year ago from the Northwest where I was born and spent all 47 years of life up to that point.
And so it was with this deep unsettledness weighing me down that I drove north from Tampa, FL in May and approached the Blue Ridge Mountains and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, seeking to test a new medium format digital camera system I had just switched to and hoping to reinvigorate my landscape photography. But with my mind and emotions consumed by this strange feeling of isolation I was not in a good place and I knew this threatened any possibility for a successful shoot.
As I entered the Smoky Mountains it seemed my photographic vision was dead. I was scraping up whatever inspiration may be left at the bottom of the barrel but found precious little. Intellectually I knew I was in an amazing place that should be full of God’s glory, but I was numb to it. The ongoing anxieties from having uprooted and moved cross-country were talking loudly and drowning out the whispers of truth that I needed to listen to. And then another fear joined the party, an old acquaintance who always mocks like a broken record with the same tired lines – ‘you’ve lost your ability to see and create, you’re finished as a photographic artist.’
About this time I began to realize just how utterly dependent I was on the pure grace of God every single day for life, for breath, for the ability to think clearly and truthfully, for any possibility of having eyes to see my Creator’s majesty and a heart of thankfulness, for the ability to respond to his glory with worshipful and joyful work. So with a freshened sense of my own frailty and brokenness I poured out my prayers to the Father. I pleaded for mercy. I asked for his grace to combat the weightiness of fear, to lift my head above my inward self-gaze, to be reminded of the greatness of God and his sovereign love and care for me.
My heart continued opening to the Lord in childlike dependance as I drove out of Smoky Mountain N.P. photographically empty-handed and began the drive at the southernmost end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Then it happened. Slowly at first, but with gathering speed: the landscape of fresh spring hardwood forests, rolling hills, and softening late afternoon light began speaking to my heart. Soon I had the big Pentax 40-megapixel camera out on the tripod making the first composition of the trip, as sunlight painted highlights across the top of ridges. Back in the truck I rounded another corner and was stopped in my tracks by the delicacy of a lone blossoming tree in the midst of an old graying forest.
Finally, as evening settled over this part of North Carolina, I ended up at the highest point of the Parkway, an overlook at 6,053 feet. As the sun began to dip behind the hazy blue mountains I used a telephoto lens to zero in on the stacked layers of peaks with big ball of sun, and exposed several frames. Reviewing the image just captured, my heart glowed as warmly as the camera’s LCD screen and I basked in the bountiful grace God had once again poured out on this broken undeserving man. The Creator had opened my eyes and heart to the glory of his handiwork in this region. But his glory shone even brighter in the way he broke through my clouded mind with his powerful love, his spirit bringing comfort in my alienated state. He has reminded me today as I write: “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19 ESV).