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.
Thanks, Sam. Me too. I mean wanting to do stuff, rather than be with or in front of; Martha, rather than Mary. But like you, i’m beginning to figure it out and begin to change, even if consistent being and appreciating is only on the horizon.
Here’s to gazing on the beauty of the Lord and inquiring in his temple!
Thanks for sharing. I hadn’t thought of the Mary and Martha story, but of course that is a perfect illustration of doing rather than gazing. Thanks.
I am Martha, definetly, but I too have always liked gazing on Gods beautyful creations. There almost isnt a day that goes by when I dont find anything to be amazed about. All of it is wonderfully made:)
You can learn a lot by admiring Gods creations. There seems to be a lot of paradoxes, but none of them are conflicting each other- they are working in harmony. They are in connection and one drives the other.
But I seem to be missing the point? Was this article a thread of thought? This time I need your help to understand:)
I learning to appreciate nature for what it is (over just “using it).
I’m wondering how God invites us to gaze on Him. It’s interesting, God himself prohibits images to be made of him, and yet he also invites us to gaze on his beauty.
I think it has to do with God looking on the inside while man looks on the outside; God invites us also to learn to look in the “inside” of who God really is. And then to study it, gaze, stare, wonder, and meditate. The more we see GOD, the more we worship.
Sam, thanks for the explanation! Now I get it!
I feel like you’ve been reading my mail! You’ve neatly articulated much of what I’ve been dwelling on lately. Thank you for saying it so well.
Nope. Haven’t been reading your mail. I leave that to the NSA. 🙂
But I’m glad we are on the same page. Isn’t it interesting how God moves the same message to different people in different locations? It certainly is affirming.
Great post! Jesus is all we need, if we will let Him be all that we need.
I’ve heard that people tend to be drawn to one of three primary values: Truth, Goodness, or Beauty. I’ve spotted myself as pretty much a Goodness kind of girl, with Truth coming in a significant second. It was longing for first Goodness and then Truth that brought me to God and that I see in him. Beauty’s value is in a relatively late ascendancy in me, but its significance is increasing all the time. It stops me in my tracks and evokes worship. I think some people find God through Beauty, but others, like me, discover Beauty through God.
I love your line, “I think some people find God through Beauty, but others, like me, discover Beauty through God.”
I want to address the beauty of creation always, but especially in the midst of real suffering, rejection & loneliness, when my soul needs relief and comfort, like David in persecution and war, when I can step into God’s beauty: nature, watching someone tenderly care for another, the eyes or laughter of a child… these help me feel the oneness with creation which is where I find God’s beauty and my best conversations with Him
Thanks for sharing. Like I said to Chris, I’m beginning to think that our appreciation of nature is but a shadow of what God invites us into by seeing him (and gazing on him, pondering him, meditating on him, adoring him).
I think I’m just beginning to learn.
I’m reminded of a story from Victor Frankl when he was in a prison camp during WWII. He was nearly frozen and exhausted as he was marched to a work detail. He collapsed and was being beaten by a guard, but his mind went to seeing himself giving a lecture after the war. Invigorated by the hope, he got up and went about his work.
Not quite ‘gazing on the beauty of the Lord,’ but transcendance. Natural beauty is transcendent, it takes us beyond the drudgery of our days. (I’m thinking of watching a glorious sunset while stuck in traffic. Who cares about the traffic, I want to worship God!) In the midst of David’s suffering he knows there is something that can completely remove him from all the negativity of his situation.
Want another transcendent experience? Listen to Hayley Westenra singing “Quanta Qualia.” Sit back, close your eyes, and invite Jesus in to experience it together. Sublime. All the best to you, Sam.
Great sharing. Thanks.
I like your thoughts on transcendence. YES! Somehow, beauty is transcendent.
I am reminded of Bruce Cockburn’s “No Footprints”from “Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaw.”
Through these channels/words
I want to touch you
Touch you deep down
Where you live
Not for power but
Because I love you
Love the Lord
And in Him love me too
And in Him go your way
And I’ll be right there with you
No footprints when we go
No footprints when we go
Only where we’ve been, a faint and fading glow.
Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/bruce-cockburn/no-footprints-lyrics/#hMUHHJqJxsY95OyX.99
Thanks for sharing. I’d never heard that song before.