Most of my life I failed to appreciate beauty. Oh, I loved the look of sails on the sea and snow on the mountains, but mostly I liked sailing those sailboats and skiing those slopes.
Fifteen years ago, I learned to scuba dive. On our first dive, my sons and I wobbled our way to the sea in unwieldly gear, inserted our mouthpieces, lowered our heads beneath the waves, and dived. In fifteen feet of water, we entered a cloud of thousands of small yellow and white, black-striped fish. We could see nothing but a beautiful gallery of sparkling fish.
And the beauty of their colors, and the shimmer of their glory, delighted and enthralled me.
Yesterday I joined two friends to talk with a woman about her calling. And she talked only of beauty. She shared the glory of seeing a sunrise, and sparks of hope in the cracks of a frozen harbor, and satisfaction in a sunset-pond. And she spoke of the healing wholeness of beauty.
Hearing her reminded me of the first time I was captivated by beauty.
This morning I read Psalm 27 as part of my Scripture meditation. When I read verse 4, something again was awakened:
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
… to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord….
And I wondered, “What the heck does it mean to gaze on the beauty of God?”
It’s Not Escape
The verse before David’s puzzling gaze-phrase describes enemies who wish to “eat up my flesh” and “war rising against me,” and the verses after it speak of enemies who “surround him” and false witnesses who “breathe out violence.” And later, parents who “forsake” him.
David longs to “gaze on the beauty of the Lord” in the middle of horrific suffering and threats. Ernest Becker (in his Pulitzer Prize book, Denial of Death) said it this way:
Taking life seriously means that whatever you do must be done in the lived truth of the evil and terror of life, of the rumble of panic underneath everything.
David’s longing for the beauty of God is neither an escape from that terror of life, nor a mere means of coping with the rumble of panic beneath everything.
This longing means we can triumph amidst the evils of life, simply by fixing our eyes on the beauty of God.
It’s Not Exploitation
I love snowcapped mountains and sea-bound sailboats because I use them for skiing and sailing. Sure, I like to look at them, but even more, I like to use them.
God’s nature is incredible, but too often I just want to use it: I love his power because I can ask of him, or his justice because I can appeal to him, or his righteousness because he gives it to me. Even his fatherhood, because he adopted me.
But for me to appreciate his beauty means I value him just for who he is, no requests, no exploitation, no “using” him to further a ministry or a good cause.
Just to gaze on him and say “In seeing you, I have all that I need.” It means to be overwhelmed with the beauty of God. To be satisfied with him alone.
His Spirit in us sees his beauty, and we worship.