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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