“This is Still the Morning of Creation” — Glacier-Like Formation

In 1879, John Muir, the legendary conservationist and explorer, took a canoe trip up the coast of Alaska in order to study glacial formations in the area. During this epic journey, Muir and his companions would encounter several magnificent glaciers, including those in what is now Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.1

If one wants to see a glacier in all its glory, one must, like Muir, journey far to the north. In the Lower 48 states of the United States, the dwindling remains of ancient glaciers can be found in only a few places. However, the remarkable landscapes glaciers have left behind can be seen across the continent, from Yosemite Valley in California to the Great Lakes near the Canada–United States border.

Glaciers form over long periods of time as snowfall accumulates and temperatures do not rise enough to melt it. As the snow piles up, it exerts tremendous downward pressure, eventually transforming the snow beneath into a thick layer of ice. Under these high-pressure conditions, air becomes trapped in tiny bubbles which diminish over time as the glacier increases in density.

To the naked eye, a glacier appears entirely stationary. Yet this is not the case. Viewed from above, the Margerie Glacier pictured above looks like a giant river cutting its way between mountains and flowing out to sea.2 Indeed, that is exactly what it is doing. Meltwater under the glacier creates friction and moves the glacier a few feet per day. Ever so slowly, the glacier carves its way through the landscape until it reaches the terminus, where it then breaks away into huge icebergs that float out to sea.

For John Muir, the luminous beauty and landscape-transforming force of these glaciers was overwhelming; they inspired one of his most famous lines:

And here, too, one learns that the world, though made, is yet being made; that this is still the morning of creation; that mountains long conceived are now being born, channels traced for coming rivers, basins hollowed for lakes; that moraine soil is being ground and outspread for coming plants,—coarse boulders and gravel for forests, finer soil for grasses and flowers,—while the finest part of the grist, seen hastening out to sea in the draining streams, is being stored away in darkness and builded particle on particle, cementing and crystallizing, to make the mountains and valleys and plains of other predestined landscapes, to be followed by still others in endless rhythm and beauty.3

Reading Muir’s words about glaciers kindles my own sense of adventure, but it also gets me thinking about the spiritual life. By the spiritual life, I’m not speaking primarily about mystical experiences; nor am I referring to a kind of piety detached from earthly life. I’m talking about real life, the day-to-day life of those who are seeking to follow Jesus.

Muir saw glaciers as evidence of God’s ongoing creative activity in the natural world; the same can be said of the spiritual life. God is still at work in us. In Jesus, the morning of creation has come again for those who believe, and we are daily being remade into his image. So, in the spiritual life, we are simply asking, What does it mean to live as a new creation? How do we walk in the Spirit? How do we become like Christ?

The call to become like Christ is a great adventure; yet, if you’re like me, you probably find yourself discouraged in the spiritual life more often than you’d like. Whenever I try to make progress, I find myself weighed down by the old sin nature—I’m still making the same mistakes, doing things I don’t want to do, struggling with a view of God I know is wrong but can’t seem to shake. The apostle Paul had a similar experience: “What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise” (Romans 7:15, MSG).4

Sometimes, it seems like I am making no progress at all, like nothing is happening. I pray, but I feel nothing. I go to church, but I’m bored. I read my Bible, but I don’t find it inspiring. Why does God feel so distant? What is this new life in Christ people are always talking about? What did Paul mean when he said that in Christ I am a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)?

In times like these, I find Muir’s little phrase especially encouraging—“This is still the morning of creation.” And I wonder, Is that the case for me as well? Perhaps it is still the morning of creation in my life. I have been made, yet I am still being made. And like a glacier that appears lifeless and stationary on the surface, real change is always going on underneath. In fact, those times when I feel like nothing is happening may actually be the most profound times of change, when dirt and debris are being cleared away so new growth can come.

And like a glacier that appears lifeless and stationary on the surface, real change is always going on underneath.

That’s all good and well; but personally, I’d like something a little more streamlined. I want a discipleship program that takes me from point A to point B in a straightforward manner as quickly as possible. Alas, such is not the life of faith. Witness Abraham, the great hero of faith.

Abraham’s story begins with a leap of faith in response to God’s call. Yet it is followed by numerous acts of faithlessness and disobedience. Sometimes Abraham trusts God, other times he takes matters into his own hands only to see things take a turn for the worse. Sometimes, even after reproof, he makes the exact same mistakes (like the two separate times he lied about Sarah being his wife—see Genesis 12:10–20, 20:1–18). And there’s a whole lot of downtime in between when God’s promises seemed to be coming to nothing.

When Abraham’s greatest challenge comes—that is, when God asks him to sacrifice his son Isaac—Abraham asks no questions. He simply trusts. Why is that? We don’t really know what was going through Abraham’s head,5 but if he had the kind of faith that could trust God with something this crazy, he didn’t get it overnight.

The point is that Abraham grew in faith through “a long obedience in the same direction.”6 Slow movement over time—start, stop, restart, begin again. That’s how it is in the spiritual life. Progress is often glacial. It is not a continual ascent. It is two steps forward, one step back, another step forward, rocks crumbling over each other pushing out to sea. Becoming like Christ is not quick work, and God isn’t in a hurry with us.7 He started the work and he will finish it in his own time (Philippians 1:6).

Slow movement over time—start, stop, restart, begin again. That’s how it is in the spiritual life.

Furthermore, God’s work in us is not glamorous; it is done quietly, often unobserved. We participate in this work through simple acts of obedience, through prayer, through generosity, through perseverance in the midst of suffering. Indeed, God’s work in us is sometimes painful, and it takes a lifetime. But as with the glacier, it is a beautiful work, the result of which will be unlike anything we can imagine.

The same God who brought me into being is still crafting and shaping me into his image. Plans long conceived for me are now being born, deep channels are being cut so that new growth can come. And all the while, you and I are journeying on, sometimes glacially, toward that day when we will become fully united with Christ in the most stunning transformation of all.