This Emerson quote has always resonated with me. My family moved to Custer, South Dakota, in the southern Black Hills, when I was four. We drove southwest to Colorado and east to Sioux Falls and neighboring Minnesota too many times to count. The home I grew up in looked out over those same Black Hills. I first noticed this connection between the health of my eye and access to the horizon when I lived in Hyde Park Chicago for three years. Being within walking distance of Lake Michigan was so important to my well-being. It did not matter if it was a warm spring day or a blustery winter day, I loved staring south out over the lake and seeing nothing but water. I worried about my year in St. Paul, Minnesota, where would I see the horizon? But the gift of the neighborhood where I lived was its proximity to the University of Minnesota experimental fields and Minnesota Fair Grounds—acres of prairie and horizon. I spent my pastoral internship year in Cheney, Washington and in the fall would walk the edges of that college town and marvel at the Palouse—mile after mile of golden wheat fields. Then I lived in a village in Western Iowa’s Loess Hills. There, I was stuck down in a valley, so it was really only on my drives north to Sioux City or south to Omaha that the health of my eye, in Emerson’s words, was restored. For better or worse, I made both of those trips often.
I remember marveling in my first few months in southern Idaho that driving in one direction I could see the Boise Foothills and in another I was looking at the Owyhees. Now, ten years into my life here, I have many places to see the horizon. One of my favorite drives is toward the vineyards. I love coming over the hill and suddenly seeing the Snake River Valley laid out below. The old road along little Lake Lowell in south Nampa has become both a refuge and a special place to walk with friends. Many days I simply walk the street west of my house, wondering how long the fields will be fields and I will be able to see the horizon. Is it simply nostalgia, the way I grew up, that has connected my health with access to a view of the horizon? Perhaps. But I think there is more.
When I see the horizon stretched out before me, I regain some perspective about the world. It is not that my needs are unimportant. I do not forget that I, too, am beloved by God and other human beings. But I am one person in this vast cosmos. Every verse I have read in the Psalms about God being the creator of all, not me or any other human being, comes back to me.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; 4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
1 The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament* proclaims his handiwork.
1 The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; 2 for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
[and if you later had to ask…]
10 Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.
Psalm 46 (the basis for Martin Luther’s hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God)
1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present* help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
5 Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created. 6 He established them for ever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
The horizon helps me regain perspective and remember to whom I am to offer praise for my life and all the life in the world. Strangely, while standing out there looking at a wide-open space, be it Lake Michigan, the Palouse, or mountains rising up across the high desert, I do not feel lonely. I may be standing alone, but with no distractions on the horizon I remember that the creator of all is indeed with me. Instead of loneliness, I experience solitude.
On my good days, when I come to view the horizon with a lift already in my step, something else happens. Looking out at nothing frees my mind to imagine and dream. I become the girl in the song Wide Open Spaces by the trio The Chicks:
She needs wide open spaces
Room to make her big mistakes
She needs new faces
She knows the high stakes
Not hindered by distractions, freed by the seemingly blank slate provided by the lake, prairie, fields or ocean I am looking at, I dream up crazy ideas: trips to go on with friends, solutions to local community problems, new partnerships, new theological connections, ways to be church in this new decade. Nothing is impossible because it is just me and the horizon and God. Some of those musings are retained on the walk home. More importantly, the freedom and boldness I gain, looking at the horizon, sticks with me as well.
Thank you God for horizons, which help me return to myself and to you.