Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Natural Beauty

On the front porch of my family home, surrounded by the Appalachian hills, I sit in a white wicker chair and write. Only a few clouds hang in the otherwise clear sky. The warm sun shines down, touching everything green that covers this untamed ground with a hint of bright yellow. Light and shadow constantly change with the day’s progression. A butterfly fluttered close by just before I saw the hummingbird hovering around our ruby-red feeder. Birds have been singing all day. A couple of robins perched upon a line chirp in conversation. Two others, with outstretched wings distinctively marked, have been flying in and out of the branches since morning. The bees gather nectar among the open flowers. I sit here with all my senses open to the experience and take it all in.

The Earth is a beautiful place. However complex the whole ecosystem may be, appreciating the beauty of creation is simple. It’s not just a matter of the mind (this is not science), but a matter of the heart, deeply known.

The creation is beautiful, but if we don’t see beyond the beauty of creation we're missing the mystery that creation is trying to show us, the indescribable beauty of its Creator, the One who brought all things into existence out of nothing. The creation is an icon, a window to heaven, through which we can see the true and living God, the Source of all Life.

I’m reminded of something St. Augustine of Hippo once said:

The heavens cry out to God, "You made me, not I, myself." Earth cries out, "You created me, not I…." Look at the heavens, it is beautiful: observe the earth, it is beautiful: both together are very beautiful. He made them, He rules them, by His nod they are swayed, He orders their seasons, He renews their movements, He renews them by Himself. All these things then praise Him, whether in stillness or in motion, whether from earth below or from heaven above, whether in their old state or in their renewed one….And since He made all things, and nothing is better than He, whatever He made is less than He, and anything about these things that pleases you is less than He. So, don’t let what He has made please you so much that you withdrawal from Him who made them. If you love what He made, then love much more Him who made them. If the things which He has made are beautiful, how much more beautiful is He who made them? (Exposition of Psalm 148)

Every Saturday evening Orthodox Christians gather together for Great Vespers. We begin this time of evening prayer by reciting an ancient prayer. Through this prayer we remember the beauty of creation and worship the Beautiful One who brought it all into existence and fills it with his nurturing presence:

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, thou art very great;
thou art clothed with honour and majesty.
Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment:
who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain:
Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters:
Who maketh the clouds his chariot:
who walketh upon the wings of the wind:
Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire:
Who laid the foundations of the earth,
that it should not be removed forever.
Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment:
the waters stood above the mountains. At thy rebuke they fled:
at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away.
They go up by the mountains;
they go down by the valleys unto the place
which thou hast founded for them.
Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over;
that they turn not again to cover the earth.
He sendeth the springs into the valleys,
which run among the hills.
They give drink to every beast of the field:
the wild asses quench their thirst.
By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation,
which sing among the branches.
He watereth the hills from his chambers:
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of they works.
He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle,
and herb for the service of man:
that he may bring forth food out of the earth:
And wine that maketh glad the heart of man,
and oil to make his face to shine,
and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart.
The trees of the Lord are full of sap;
the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted;
Where the birds make their nests:
as for the stork, the fir trees are her house.
The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats;
and the rocks for the conies.
He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down.
Thou makest darkness, and it is night:
wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.
The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God.
The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together,
and lay them down in their dens.
Man goeth forth unto his works and to his labour until the evening.
O Lord, how manifold are thy works!
In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.
So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping, innumerable,
both small and great beasts.
There go the ships:
there is that leviathan, who thou hast made to play therein.
These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat
in due season.
That thou givest them they gather:
thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.
Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled:
thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.
Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created:
and thou renewest the face of the earth.
The glory of the Lord shall endure forever:
the Lord shall rejoice in his works.
He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth:
he toucheth the hills, and they smoke.
I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live:
I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord.
Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.
Bless thou the Lord, O my soul.
Praise ye the Lord.

Those who worship the true and living Creator God have been praying this prayer (Psalm 104) for nearly three thousand years. Today it forms a part of the constant heartbeat that gives the Orthodox Christian way of life its consistent rhythm, a rhythm that gives us absolute stability in a world swept away and tossed around, without an anchor, by the temperamental winds of popular opinion and faddish change.

Be attentive to the beauty of creation, soaking up its beauty with the senses God has given us to experience it. Like a mirror, the creation reflects the Creator Himself. Allow the creation to draw the attention of your heart toward God so that you may encounter His Beauty, remain ever-aware of His presence around us, and praise Him unceasingly from the depths of your created soul.

Copyright © 2006 by Dana S. Kees. Photo copyright © 2004 by Dana S. Kees.