Many people have talked about the sunsets here in Phoenix. My general practitioner, who has lived in or traveled to many different places, told me once that she has never seen any to rival them, not even in Hawaii. I was surprised, but later I read an article in the local newspaper that validated that statement as it attempted to explain the regular, beautiful phenomenon. Is it the mountains? The particulates in the atmosphere? The kinds of clouds we have here? The smog? I admit that many a time I have driven west in the evening and have myself wondered at the sunset, admired the dynamic strands of color spreading out from the orb resting on the shoulder of South Mountain.
One evening this past week I had the opportunity to witness a 10-year sunset. I was watching my kids play with neighbors in the front yard, but my restless eye was also wandering to a hummingbird nest in the lower branches of our giant eucalyptus tree. Though I am madly in love with that hummingbird mama, watching her through binoculars several times a day and worrying when she's away, I was soon distracted from her astonishingly still form by the western sky.
I got up and kept saying to the kids as I walked around and stared, "Look at that beautiful sunset! Can you believe that sunset? It's amazing."
But apparently they could believe it, for they paid it little mind, glancing up for only a second when I spoke. I didn't understand their nonchalance. The sun had erupted brilliantly and its flames magnified each moment. The colors didn't appear to diminish as night approached. It lingered for ten years as I watched in awe, suspended in time.
And something my parish priest said about sacraments came back to me as I felt the unusually cool wind of May on my skin and faced a majestic sky. As an example about the difference between big "S" sacraments and sacraments with a little "s", he said he might go fishing early in the morning with a friend on a lake, and as the sun rose over the lake, he could be so affected by the beauty of it that it would be for him a profound moment with God, a sacrament with a little "s". For his buddy, however, it could be just another sunrise on just another morning as he waited impatiently for a bite on his line.
That ten-year sunset was for me a sacrament. It pulled me into its mystery on an unimpressive, dusty neighborhood street amid the noise of children at play. I thanked God for the chance to experience it, just as I had thanked God for a cool, breezy May in Phoenix, and just as I had thanked him profusely several times for the hummingbird nest in our tree.
Phoenix is rich in spectacular sunsets, just as our lives are rich in little sacraments, if we are present enough to be aware of and grateful for them.