Archives For Beauty

Erosion

Chris Hay —  August 11, 2014 — Leave a comment

A few weeks ago I posted a blog about the beauty of God’s creation as it was unwrapped in some of our National Parks; how God’s creative work is just a hint, a sampling of His majesty and glory; and how all of His creation should cause us to fall on our faces in worship. These stunning, breathtaking vistas are just a drop in the vast ocean of God’s stunning beauty and breathtaking character.

Las Vegas StripOn this same trip, we took the time to drive The Strip in Las Vegas. Never been there before, and since we were driving right through Vegas anyway, we decided to check it out. Yes, it was impressive. Man certainly has been given great skill in designing and constructing impressive monuments to himself, such as the sphinx and the Eiffel Tower in miniature; of course the originals, also built by man, are even more impressive!

It was the very next day that we drove through Zion National Park, and I couldn’t help comparing God’s handiwork there with man’s handiwork in Las Vegas. Both impressive, both beautiful, both worthy of taking lots of pictures, both attract thousands of people. But I was overwhelmed with the contrasts. The Strip requires constant and expensive maintenance to keep it looking beautiful. If it were neglected for just a few years, it would deteriorate into rubble. Whereas God’s work has been sitting there just fine for millennia, arguably getting more stunning as the centuries pass. The natural massifs and vistas lifted my soul in worship to the Creator God; The Strip was a jarring reminder of man’s greed and emptiness.

Grand CanyonIt struck me that much of God’s creative beauty is from erosion. The sandstone monoliths of Capitol Reef have been scoured clean of dirt and debris, revealing their impressive beauty. The Grand Canyon and all its stark beauty exist solely because of erosion. The hoodoos of Bryce Canyon are the result of the caressing of the wind and water over the centuries. The wind and the rain are brushes in the Artist’s fingers; they are hammer and chisel in the Sculptor’s hands.

Those same tools, wind and rain and erosion, would desecrate man’s works. Buildings would rust, windows would break, landscaping would run wild or die from lack of water. Erosion is the enemy of man’s work; it is the agent of God’s work.

Bryce Canyon HoodoosThe parallels in the life of a Christ-follower should be clear. The winds and rains of life are what make us more beautiful and Christ-like. Erosion is God’s normal and required process to form beauty and character in us. We can desperately fight to keep ourselves ‘maintained’ and looking good as we stroll down the road of life, or we can accept and even embrace God’s erosion of ourselves to make us a stunning reflection of Him.

If we try living with Self as our god, the tools of erosion will only make us more bitter, filled with rust and deterioration that oozes onto those around us. And that makes us ugly. So we need to allow the erosion of life to make us more beautiful, more stunning. We can’t let it deteriorate our spirit and make us ugly. I would much rather be a National Park than the Vegas Strip.

As I write this, I’ve just returned home from an evening walk with my family. Most nights we walk a loop that takes us up on the hillside and back to our lowland home. This time of year our evening walks point us toward the sunset for a good 20 minutes as we crest the hill and work our way gradually down.

Tonight’s sunset was entirely unique, as they all are. Bright orange on the horizon, innumerable shades of pink in the lower sky, purple mountains matched by purple clouds, silvery white higher up, and intense blue fading up and over our heads. Sights like this present us with beauty that sometimes makes our hearts ache.

Simi Valley Sunset

This is the exact sunset I’m trying to describe. Photo Credit: Zach Bloom (www.blooming-productions.com, Instagram: @zachfilms).

We enjoyed this rich view as we walked imperceptibly closer to the horizon. I tried to drink it all in. My wife and I talked about the God who shines at us in such moments. I repeatedly pointed it out to my daughters riding in the double stroller. (“I know Daddy, I already saw how beautiful!”)

And then we reached the side street that curbs our route, walked parallel to the radiating colors for a short block, then turned our backs on the glory. I hated to do it. But after running my wife off the sidewalk with the stroller as I craned my neck for a few more glances, I gave it up. I guess that’s all the glory I get for one night.

How we long for those moments with God! Those rare moments where we feel him, where we almost see Him. I’ve experienced it in singing praise songs, in reading my Bible and other books, in short and long moments of prayer, in rich times of fellowship. Lately I’ve been experiencing God more and more in his stuff. The heavens declare the glory of God, the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day and night speak incessantly, their voices sounding in every corner of creation (Ps. 19:1–6). When I earnestly look, I see God’s active presence in fallen leaves, in half moons, in my daughters’ laughter, in a stranger’s smile. I’m no pantheist, but I do agree with the Psalmist—his name is echoing all around this place.

These moments of recognized glory are rare and precious; we hate to let them go. It felt such a shame to turn my back on God’s glory etched in the ever-changing sky. But when I turned my back on glory, I realized that I hadn’t. The street ahead of me was softly shaded in orange and pink. Every tree, car, and home was covered in a gentle light. The street we so often walk along was the same as ever, yet completely different. God’s glory shone from behind us and everything in our path passively reflected his light as it actively presented all of the attributes with which God crafted it. The trees, for example, revealed God’s handiwork in leaves and bark and limbs, and they glowed softly in reflection of his illuminated masterpiece.

As much as we want to cling to those experiences of God’s glory, we must eventually turn our backs. The routine calls us on. The God-granted mundanities of our daily lives insist on pulling us away from unending meditation. But when we do turn our backs in obedience, we find his glory reflected still. He is there to be experienced in the trivialities and in the routines. He is shining all around us. We only need eyes to see.

Beautiful Places

Chris Hay —  July 23, 2014 — 1 Comment

Every time I visit a beautiful place, I find myself overwhelmed with a deep hunger, a desperate longing, to grasp more of it. I remember many years ago driving the Icefields Parkway in Canada and I was an emotional wreck for three days. It was stunning beyond belief, and as much as I tried to drink it all in, I was left panting with thirst. I lived in Alaska for many years, and it was the same thing. I tried to absorb it all, but was left wanting.

This has all been resurrected in my soul as my wife and I have just driven from Southern California to Denver for a conference. We took the opportunity to visit some of our National Parks and enjoy the creative work of our great God, including Zion NP, Bryce Canyon NP, and Capitol Reef NP. We also drove Utah Hwy 12, one of America’s top scenic drives. Quite simply, we have seen some of the most stunning scenery in the world (my current opinion—I certainly haven’t seen all the scenery in the world!).

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

We processed this soul longing as we wound our way through Zion Canyon. God created all this beauty initially for His own good pleasure, and now He allows His created beings to enjoy it. These parks, and this scenery, are massive; stunning; breathtaking; immense. Kind of like God. The realization grew as we drove and talked that this hunger I experience, this desire to almost become one with the stupendous vistas unfolding before us, can only be satisfied by God Himself. He gives us these gorgeous places to draw our emotions toward Him. These places create that want for more because we do want more. And no created thing, no mountain, no canyon, no majestic vista, can begin to compare with His glory and His beauty.

When we stare up at the massive sandstone formations in Capitol Reef, or gaze on the intricate formations that defy description in Bryce Canyon, we need to be drawn toward God Himself. As massive and beautiful as those formations are, they pale compared to the immensity of the Creator who made them. This earthly beauty, designed by God for His pleasure and our enjoyment, is simply an arrow that points toward Him. If I am left panting as I gaze on such earthly beauty, what should my response be as I meditate on the dazzling radiance of God? Ask Ezekiel or Isaiah. After glimpsing the radiance of God’s glory, Ezekiel fell on his face (Ezek 1:26-28). When Isaiah saw the throne room of heaven, he assumed he was a dead man (Isa 6:1-7).

I imagine those responses were not unlike the feelings evoked in us when we are privileged to see the breathtaking vistas of Yosemite, or the towering Rocky Mountains, or the wild rugged beauty of Alaska. Only more so exponentially. God knows that to truly gaze on His glory is only permitted to a select few; I’m sure because we simply couldn’t handle it. So He gives us the ethereal hoodoos in Bryce Canyon and the massive sandstone monoliths of Capitol Reef to take our breath away, and try to fathom how infinitely great is our God.

Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon

We are all surrounded by beauty, even if it’s not the grandeur of the Western U.S. We have lived many places, and have found beauty in each of those places. From watching the sunset over the cornfields of the Midwest, to watching lines of ants marching off to who-knows-where, God has designed His glorious world for us to catch a glimpse of Him. So my thought is this: every time I look upon His creation, whether tiny or massive, simple or bizarre, ordinary or unique, I need to see it as an expression of His character. I need to realize that the longing inside for more of that stunning vista is simply a longing for more of our glorious God and Savior and Creator Jesus. He gave us these places, this earth, and the beauty around us. That is why it is beneficial to go to places like Zion NP, Bryce Canyon NP, and Capitol Reef NP. So get out your map, plan a trip, and go worship our supremely huge God.

“The mountains rose, the valleys sank down, to the place that you appointed for them.” Ps 104:8

The Apologetic Value of Beauty

Mark Beuving —  February 11, 2014 — 1 Comment

Whenever I teach on the relationship between Christianity and art, there are always questions about how evangelistic our art should be. Christians are commanded to communicate the gospel. And art is a means of communication. So shouldn’t we be putting crosses in our paintings and verses in our poetry? Shouldn’t our literary characters be converting and our film characters be preaching?

One factor that often gets overlooked in these discussions is the nature of beauty as God himself formed it. When God created the word, he made it beautiful. Overwhelmingly so. There is beauty at every turn. There is beauty that literally brings us to tears. There is beauty that makes us stop and contemplate. Beauty is everywhere in the world that God made.

But why did God make his world beautiful? For example, why should lilies be beautiful as opposed to merely functional? The answer seems to be that God is a lover of beauty. As many have said throughout the years, beauty needs no justification. We don’t need to explain why the world should be beautiful. Why shouldn’t it be so?

But there is also an apologetic function to the beauty that God made. In other words, beauty is a tool for evangelism, for pointing people to God.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

The artistry in the created world reflects the God who crafted it, and it does so to such a great extent that David can say that it declares and proclaims God. Paul says something similar, and even goes a bit further:

“What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19–20)

Paul is saying that everyone knows the truth about God. Sure, they’ll deny him. But deep down, they know God. How do they know this? Because God has shown himself to them in the things that he made. When people look at the beauty and grandeur of the created world, they are actually witnessing revelation about God. So evident is God in the beauty of this world, in fact, that Paul says that everyone who sees the created world has no excuse for their disbelief (sorry agnostics).

Christian LilySo here’s my point. God didn’t print Bible verses on flower petals. The beauty of those petals points to God without an explicit declaration of the plan of salvation. So it is with the art that Christians make. The beauty their art embodies points to God, even if John 3:16 isn’t written on the canvas. Beautiful, creative, well-crafted art is evangelistic—even when there is no verbalized gospel presentation.

This is because beauty inherently points beyond itself. Beauty, says N. T. Wright, “slips through our fingers.” We try to photograph it, to paint it, to record it. And we genuinely cherish and enjoy these beautiful expressions. But even so, the beauty embodied in our art does not fully satisfy our itch. And for Wright, this reveals something about beauty itself:

“The beauty sometimes seems to be in the itching itself, the sense of longing, the kind of pleasure which is exquisite and yet leaves us unsatisfied.”

Exquisite—not banal—pleasure that leaves us unsatisfied. As Ann Voskamp says, “See beauty and we know it in the marrow, even if we have no words for it: Someone is behind it, in it.”

Many Christians choose to talk about the gospel explicitly in their art, and many do this very well. But we sometimes impose upon our artists a Christianese quota that must be fulfilled in every song, film, or painting. And when we do this, we are (inadvertently) demeaning the apologetic value of the beauty that God infused into the most mundane facets of creation. And John Calvin goes so far as to call this sort of undervaluing of God’s diverse work “demeaning” and “reproachful” towards the Holy Spirit.

As I parked my car for our early morning pre-service band rehearsal and pulled my guitar out of the trunk, I realized that I had already been worshiping. No, Chris Tomlin had not been on my car stereo, nor was I listening to sermon podcasts. I hadn’t meant to worship (that sounds lame), but I had my eyes and ears open, and it just happened. Here’s how.

As I began driving to our church building, the sun was just preparing to rise. Everything was partially lit with the blue light that precedes sunrise. I drove West, and my rearview mirror displayed a gradually lightening sky with varying shades of deep blue as the sun reflected off of the Eastern clouds. Looking ahead, the moon was sitting low and shining brightly in the even deeper blue sky, shining through some wispy blue clouds. It was the kind of predawn that almost makes early mornings sound like a good idea.

All this I saw with my eyes, but my ears were busy too. I was listening to “Miasma Sky” by Baths (see the video below), a song I am only just becoming acquainted with, and it was killing me. The instrumentation and arrangement are so beautiful, so reflective. It’s nothing like a worship song, but the few and simple lyrics are about being swallowed up (in a foreboding way) by the grandeur of nature. This, too, was incredibly moving.

As I drove, I felt myself drawn into worship.

Then my former semi-fundy self questioned the validity of this experience. There have been times in my not-so-distant-past when I would have considered it fluffy, mystic, or “emergent” (my past self not understanding any of those terms) to be led to worship by a sunset and a “secular” song. So in the final moments of my drive I asked myself, “Is there a biblical basis for what I’m experiencing right now?” And I answered myself, “Yes, I think so.” (Apparently I have a very active and formal inner dialogue.)

Both aspects of my experience (being led to worship by non-religious sights and sounds) are easily explained both biblically and theologically. Psalm 19 insists that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Romans 1 says that God, from the moment of creation, has been revealing himself through the things he has made.

So I saw beauty, and I saw God. He’s the God of beauty. He’s the God in beauty. Ann Voskamp says it insightfully: “See beauty and we know it in the marrow, even if we have no words for it: Someone is behind it, in it.” His lights and colors were streaming through the universe on my short drive, and I beheld his manifold grace.

Likewise, I heard beauty, and I heard God. His name wasn’t spoken, but the sounds that he designed and made possible were being pushed into the air from my speakers. Those sounds travelled in waves through the cab of my car, obediently following the laws of physics that God instituted. They struck my eardrums, which resonated accorded to God’s design. And my brain, following God’s impossibly complex instructions, interpreted those fleshy vibrations as beauty.

It goes even beyond that, actually. Those sounds found their way onto my iPod because God ingrained human beings with the ability and inclination to experiment and create. He carefully chose the musical gifts he would give to the musicians in the band Baths. He formed a musical universe that through the creativity of his human beings would eventually yield guitars and drums and a host of beauty creating instruments. And the eventual result was “Miasma Sky” flowing through my speakers in the early dawn, filling my ears as the color filled my eyes, and drawing my heart to the beauty of the Creator.

So I say to my former semi-fundy self: “Yes, I was right to worship.” As the old hymn says:

“This is my Father’s world
He shines in all that’s fair
In the rustling grass I hear him pass
He speaks to me everywhere.”

Here’s to impromptu worship sessions. May we find them often and everywhere.