A Light in the Clouds

This morning as I sat on my patio drinking coffee, I looked up at the sky where the rising sun was shining on the clouds. And it struck me again how beautiful this world is. I basked in that beauty for a while; centered myself in it.

Yes, there is ugliness also. Humans in particular bring ugliness. Human cruelty, destructiveness, vulgarity, stupidity, etc. etc. is all so present. Yet the beauty of a lighted-filled sky is above that ugliness, both literally and figuratively. It transcends it.

There is, of course, a certain cruelty in the rest of Nature also. A few days ago, as I walked by the Mississippi River, I watched a hawk chase down a pigeon, and after a dramatic chase, captured it in its talons. Then, I saw a bald eagle from at least a half mile away rapidly soaring toward the hawk. It gave chase  a while and finally the hawk dropped its prize. The eagle, in one gloriously graceful movement, veered down and caught the pigeon in mid-air as it dropped and flew off with it. 

Brutal for the pigeon, yes, and even for the hawk. But for me as a spectator it held something of the sublime. Ugliness, I think, belongs exclusively to human activity. Nature, even in the kind of cruelty I had just witnessed, retains its innocence. Hawk and eagle were just doing as natural evolution shaped them to do. And they did it with incredible grace.

Nature is often cruel to us humans, also. Disease, bad genes, a variety of natural disasters for a few examples. But none of this is according to plan. Its just the way of the world. It was not made for us nor we for it. It brought us forth. Not for any particular reason; Nature, it seems, is just wildly creative, and we are a part of that creation. The bad comes along with the good.

As I use them, the two words, ‘Nature’ and ‘God’ are synonyms. They both alike  refer to the source and ultimate context of the entire creational process of this world as well as the mystery that lies at its base. So I will change words here and talk of the beauty of God instead of the beauty of Nature. 

I grew up Catholic and I still think of myself as a ‘black-sheep Catholic’. While I reject much of Catholicism, perhaps most of it, I retain a great respect for one of its aspects. This is how it valued beauty. That value led the church to support the creation of some of the most beautiful art, architecture, and music of Western Culture. 

This adherence to beauty, to see in beauty a way to worship God and even enter communion with God, is something I find sadly lacking in so much American Protestantism, and even in modern Catholicism.

Part of this, lies in the idea that the beauty we take in through our senses is a lower form of beauty than that of such “spiritual” things as virtue, self-discipline and holiness. There is a truth to that, but none of that negates the beauty of the world that we do take in through the senses. In my experience, to love such beauty is indeed a “way to worship God.” (Though the idea that a god in any form would have use for human worship strikes me as absurd.)

Jesus gave as the highest commandment that we should love God with our whole heart and soul and love our neighbor as yourself. Amen to that.

It is only through the beauty of the world that I can love God deeply and joyfully, for it is easy to love that which we find beautiful, and it is easy to find beauty in that which we love. And it is only through that love of God, the source and ultimate context of this world, that I can approach the much harder task of loving my fellow human beings, despite the ugliness they bring into the world. 

Perhaps from a ‘god’s-eye’ perspective, a perspective that sees through time, humans are just as innocent as the hawk and eagle. Perhaps we behave just as natural evolution shaped us to do. Unfortunately I don’t have a ‘god’s-eye’ perspective, so I can only wonder and gaze at light filled clouds.

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6 thoughts on “A Light in the Clouds”

  1. Hmm.. another one of your engaging articles! This one, like your thought-provoking one on “Being a brain” seem in conflict with Hope for moral realism, compassion, and the other positive listed goals of SNS.
    For instance, your last point “perhaps we are just as innocent as…” other creatures in nature.
    Then wouldn’t that mean that compassion is no better than cruelty, that human abuse and slaughter of other humans is okay?
    At least that is the claim of many thinkers, that there is no good or bad. SNS may like compassion and think that compassion is good and humans have worth, but millions of other humans think humans have no worth and so can abuse and slaughter, saying that such actions are natural and common too.
    I’ve even read one famous psychologist who argues that ‘cancer” is “beautiful”.
    But when a 32-year-old mother dies suddenly from cancer, leaving behind 2 pre-schoolers and a new born infant, it seems that cancer is wrong, that it ought to be eliminated.
    There don’t appear to be any “oughts” in nature. Though I do love being out in the wilderness, am a former avid backpacker in the Sierras and Grand Canyon. So much beauty indeed! Thanks for rattling my brain with these difficult conundrums.

    • Daniel, I said “Perhaps from a ‘god’s-eye’ perspective…, humans are just as innocent as the hawk and eagle.” First, perhaps means just that. Second, humans only see through human eyes.

      We’re capable of compassion and the universe is not. The creational process of the universe brings forth what it brings forth, and we humans judge it with terms such as good and bad, beautiful and ugly. I find much of what Nature brings forth beautiful. That Nature is neither kind nor compassionate has nothing to do with it. However, if you feel differently about beauty, that’s fine. I’m not asking people to agree with me. I’m only offering my perspective on various matters.

  2. Thomas, Thanks for answering.
    One further question then, to help me understand, if you don’t mind.
    Are you saying that compassion is or isn’t better than killing —for all humans or is that only your own preference?
    You’re stretching my mind on this:-)
    As a life-long teacher and former mental health worker, it is difficult for me to understand how moral views can only be a preference determined by nature, nurturing compassion for that human, killing and cruelty for a different human.

    • Not just from my point of view, but from the point of view of humanity in general, compassion is better than killing in most instances. Legal, religious and ethical systems from throughout the world have largely been in agreement on this. But if you desire to make this a trans-humans point of view, good luck.

        • Our cats show no compassion for little birds, not our son’s bal python for live mice. As wondrous as wilderness areas are such as on trails down into the Grand Canyon to the river, I’ve no illusions about the ruthlessness of nature. So we probably agree on that.
          Though I doubt Carl Sagan was correct in stating that there are many, many aliens in the Cosmos, if there are other self-aware, rational, moral species besides humans in reality, it seems they, too, would realize compassion, etc. are better than cruelty, killing, etc.
          What I reject are the naturalists who state that all humans have no worth in themselves, etc.
          As I said, I’ve been creatively challenged by SNS articles. And strongly appreciate your positive uplifting outlook. So different from more negative naturalists like one who told me personally that even little girls who are mutilated by their religious parents in Egypt are “without worth in themselves,”

          Thanks for the dialogue. Much appreciated!


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