A Journey of faith within the church, the culture and the world
Thursday, June 6, 2013
On Beauty - A Reflection for Ordinary Time
The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. (Psalm 50:1-2)
I love to visit the eastern Sierras in California. The air is clean and the views are dramatic. The beauty is sometimes breathtaking, and it always seems to fill something within me that I didn’t know was empty.
I’ve hiked with friends in those mountains who would stop occasionally and declare their amazement at God’s handiwork. They see God’s fingerprints everywhere, and they have no doubt that they are witnessing the effects of the Creator’s artistic touch.
It doesn’t quite work that way for me. I look at the rugged mountains, the expansive valleys, the pristine lakes, the lovely and aromatic trees and shrubs, and I think about ancient earthquakes and volcanoes, massive glaciers and millennia of corrosive activity. I even imagine how people’s appreciation of the landscape would change if they were lost in those mountains and facing a cold and lonely night, with only bears to keep them company.
I used to be troubled at my apparent lack of theological reflection about God’s creative work in nature. I wondered if I was secretly and unconsciously an unbeliever (maybe some of my Reformed friends were right, and double predestination was a reality, and I was on the wrong side of election but didn’t know it!). Maybe one of my atheist friends could point out that I had discovered what had already been apparent to others—nature is just nature, and you can’t prove God by its wonder and beauty.
They’re probably right, those atheists. You really can’t prove God just by looking at nature. But here’s the catch: Isn’t it a wonder that we can stand in those places and be overwhelmed by something we identify as beauty? What is it within us that characterizes a rugged, ancient landscape as beautiful? Do the wild animals pause every so often to enjoy the amazing views? Or do they just function there, looking for something to eat and a place to sleep? We might understand how something huge and overwhelming would produce a feeling of awe, but how does beauty do that?
I may have trouble clearly identifying the effects of a glacier with the hand of God, but I’m coming to marvel at the fact that we all seem to have a capacity for beauty in the first place. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but my ability to appreciate things that are beautiful gives me pause.