Friday, May 23, 2014

In Love of Beauty

Sadly it is very easy to find evil and ugliness in the world today.  Indeed one does not have to search far to find it. That said, it is also true that there is much beauty in this world.  That beauty is often evident in God's creation of nature and in God's gifts of talent to humankind thus allowing us to create beautiful works of art in paintings, music, and architecture.  There is also much beauty and love to be found in each other throughout humanity and our caring and loving for one another.  And, of course, there is infinite goodness and beauty and love to be found in God himself.  Indeed he is the very essence and definition of these things.

Instead of focusing on ugliness, despair, and evil, I am trying mightily to find that love - that beauty - in God's creation.  In doing so, I came across some pictures that illustrate that wondrous and transcendent beauty that is ultimately created and held in its very existence through God's own will.  I do hope you will find that same beauty that I see in the following pictures accordingly.

This is a picture I personally took several years ago from in front of the picture window over the altar of the Chapel of the Transfiguration in Grand Teton National Park.  I commented to some other visitors there at the time how it must be difficult for any pastor to come up with a sermon to surpass the beauty of this scene above the altar.  One older lady said that she was an Episcopal Minister that had preached there before and that I was indeed correct.

This is a picture of the Milky Way over the Anasazi Indian ruins at Hovenweep National Monument.  The stars anywhere on a cloudless night away from the small town lights in Southern Utah are simply magnificent!  They truly make me feel small, and yet very special, to be a part of this unfathomable universe God has created for us. 

Michelangelo's masterpiece, "The Creation of Adam", which  he painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is truly amazing and beautiful!  Seeing this painting in person in the Vatican is definitely something that I would love to do before the end of my earthly days.

The next picture is of a coral reef and it is truly  breathtaking in it vibrancy.  It almost feels other-worldly in its beauty.  Years ago when I was in the Navy I was lucky enough to be stationed in both Puerto Rico and then Okinawa, Japan.  Both places had beautiful places where I snorkeled and saw just such amazing reefs and the life that they sustained.

A Monarch butterfly was flitting around in the warm Autumn sunshine when my wife noticed it and took this picture down by Capitol Reef National Park in Southern Utah a few years ago.  There was an ever so slight breeze and the warm sunshine was dappled on the ground as it was filtered by the huge cottonwood trees above us that lined our wooden path.  Among that scene, several of these beautiful butterflies would occasionally lite on the vibrant yellow flowers swaying in that gentle breeze.

The beauty of the sacrament of the most Holy Eucharist  which was given to us by Christ himself at the last supper is something that sustains me and many millions of Christians throughout his beautiful world.  What could be more beautiful than a God that would lay down his life simply out of love for someone like me?

Another one of my most favorite places on earth is the serenely beautiful Saint Mary Lake in Glacier National Park in western Montana.  There is something about this place that simply brings peace to my soul.

The Italian Baroque master Caravaggio painted the "Incredulity of Saint Thomas" over four hundred years ago.   Thomas was told by his fellow apostles that the risen Christ had appeared to them.  Saint Thomas  in his incredulity stated, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."  A week later Jesus appeared and told Thomas to touch Him and stop doubting. Then Jesus said, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."  This beautiful masterpiece is one of my favorite paintings.

The stunningly beautiful site of Machu Picchu was built by the Incas around 1450 in the mountains of Peru. Visiting this location someday is definitely on my bucket list.  A friend of mine will be venturing here later this summer!  I am very excited for her and hopes she takes lots of pictures to share!

This world's beauty is also reflected by many of the people that live on our planet.  This picture is of my oldest granddaughter when she was just a baby.  She has grown up to be a teenager now and is one of the most beautiful people I know.  Her spirit is so full of love, light, and God's joy.  Those are the things that make her so beautiful.  That said, she is also exceptionally beautiful on the outside too.

When I was a boy and a teenager, I spent a lot of time camping and hiking throughout many wild and gorgeous places throughout the Pacific Northwest.  One of my favorite spots was around Mt. Jefferson in the Cascade Mountain range in central Oregon.  It was through my hiking and exploration of such beautiful places that I learned to love and come to deeply appreciate the natural wonders of our world that we must ensure are secured and protected for all of mankind to marvel at in future generations.

This is another picture that my beautiful wife took several years ago on our trip back from exploring the beautiful red rock country in southern Utah.  The clouds that day were truly amazing and seemed to be like giant tufts of cotton that God had just suspended in the warm Fall sky.  

This is a picture of another of my favorite places on earth.  (I know - I know - I have lots of favorite places!) I took this picture of Bryce Canyon on that same trip as the one from the picture above.  God's artistry as displayed in the beautiful sand stone spires, called hoo doos, is something that I have never seen anywhere else in this beautiful world.

Another item that I have on my bucket list is to someday travel far enough north in Alaska to be able to see the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights.  I have always been fascinated by this atmospheric phenomenon.

The Pieta was sculptured by Michelangelo and depicts the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus.  This solemnly beautiful sculpture is heart wrenching in its beauty and what it depicts.  There is a beautiful reproduction of this sculpture at my local parish.  Michelangelo's is in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

Another place of beauty where I spent plenty of my teenage years was along the magnificent Oregon Coast. I have always appreciated the rugged landscape of the coastline throughout much of the Pacific Northwest far more so than the over-crowded sandy beaches of southern California.  God's handiwork is often on display in the rock formations and the crashing breakers that line the Oregon and Washington coastlines.

I never get tired of seeing God's painting of magnificent sunsets.  From my time growing up in Oregon to the present time as I watch the setting of the sun over The Great Salt Lake and the Oquirrh Mountain range from my back deck, I always feel a sense of awe and wonder. Below is scene of black-eyed Susan's in a field as the sun sets in the distance.  I don't know where this picture was taken, but it is a common scene around here and could have easily come from this area.

God has also graced humankind with many great gifts and talents.  Some of those talents have been used to make beautiful structures and works of architecture, in particular in houses of worship to him.  The below picture is that of the the altar at the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.  The superlative detail in the craftsmanship is truly beautiful.

Sometimes there is even a sense of beauty in the destructive and creative forces of God in nature.  Such is the case during an eruption of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii!  While it would be unsettling to be close to this eruption, the beauty of it is certainly evident.

And finally for my last picture of beauty!  The Catholic Church teaches that God calls each of us to a vocation.  Vocation in this context doesn't simply mean a "job", but rather a specific life calling.  Those vocations are meant to impart God's graces and happiness for the individual that strives to live that vocation faithfully.  The vocations that one can be called to are to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders as a Priest, Deacon, or consecrated religious man or woman.  Further, one can be called to the vocation of lifelong sacramental marriage.  Finally one can be a consecrated single person.  

My vocation for the last 23 years of my adult life was that of a married person.  God blessed me with the most beautiful woman, both in her spirit and in her countenance, to be my beloved wife.  With her passing, I am praying and discerning which new vocation he is calling for me to follow.  I was blessed with such beauty in my marriage with my Jenny.  I am sure that whatever my future vocation holds for me, God will also bless me with much beauty to be found within it as well!  

Lastly, I pray that each of your reading this will listen in your heart to God's calling to find and live your vocation in order that you too will be able to see the beauty that is so easily found and evident everywhere in God's creation!  Amen!


Jerry Critter said...

Isn't evil and ugliness also God's creations.

T. Paine said...

Jerry, that is a very good question, sir.

If you will, please follow my analogy for a moment.

Most people think cold is the opposite of hot, dark is the opposite of light, and evil is the opposite of good. That actually is not the case.

In physics, cold is an absence of heat or warmth. Cold is not something in and of itself but rather the lack of heat. In space it is very cold. That is not because some source is “causing” it to be cold but rather it is because there is nothing there but the vacuum of space. There isn’t any air or any substance to reflect and absorb light through much of space; therefore, that lack of warmth is called cold.

The same is true for darkness. You cannot make a place “more dark”, but rather you remove more light. Complete darkness is a total absence of light.

The same is true of good and evil. Evil and ugliness in the world are not creations of God but rather are a lack of God in our lives. Where God is the very essence of goodness, the complete lack of God, whether in one’s heart or in a culture’s morals, is where evil exists. The greater that lack of God and his goodness is where the greatest evil is. Such are not creations of God but rather the self-chosen absence of God.

Jerry Critter said...

Are atheists then evil and ugly since they do not have God in their lives.

Jerry Critter said...

Or perhaps a Buddhist? Or someone who believes in a different God?

T. Paine said...

No, not necessarily, sir. I am absolutely certain that their are Muslims and Toaists and atheists and so forth that live good and beautiful lives despite not knowing or believing in God. I know and love several such people.

Not knowing or believing in God does not negate the fact that he is present in all of our lives and has given us various gifts and graces, whether we acknowledge him or not, so I believe.

It is also my belief that if you live a life of love towards others and attempt to be moral in your comportment, then whether you believe in God or not, that moral compass and loving heart that you are using are from the gifts he has given you.

That said, it is also my belief that a true fullness of joy in this life can only be known by knowing and loving God.

Goodness and beauty come from him whether we are aware or acknowledge this.

T. Paine said...

I despise auto correct. In my second sentence "their" should be "there".

Jerry Critter said...

I, too, despise auto correct having fallen victim to it many times.

So, we are not dealing with absolutes here. The absence of God does not necessarily result in evil and ugliness. Does it follow then that beauty and goodness also do not require the presence of God? Actually, I think you already answered that. It comes automatically.

Thank you for your answers.

John Myste said...


As you know, I am not one “of the faith,” regardless of the flavor of faith in question. However, I think Burr Deming also answered your question in one of his posts. He said this:

“Danish physicist Neils Bohr, a founder of much of our understanding of atomic science, was once chided by a visitor to his island home who spotted a horseshoe above a door. Did he really believe a horseshoe would bring him luck? "Of course not," he answered. "But I am told it works even if you don't believe in it."”

Assuming some Christians are correct in their beliefs about some Gods, and, as Mr. Paine said, evil is the absence of God, then a “good person,” who does not believe, could still have God in his life, and could still be good to the degree that he does.

I daresay that if God exists, as understood by one or more Christian flavors, then the concept of pure evil would be virtually impossible to realize in practice. The influence or effects of a pervasive, near ubiquitous goodness, would be inescapable. The only question would be how close to pure evil can one be.

To even acknowledge goodness a “real” thing, not a label for an illusion, you have to stop into the realm of divinity in some sense, though I acknowledge that if there is such a thing as “goodness,” there is no evidence that it points to an entity, per se.

“Does it follow then that beauty and goodness also do not require the presence of God? Actually, I think you already answered that. It comes automatically.”

The mere concept of beauty, for example, is not easily explained by science. It is a sentient experience, and how experience came from a place where none existed before is not explained by the fact of evolution.

As I think your last comment suggested, beauty and goodness do not require the presence of God. Those things could be construed as the presence of God, rather than something that accompanies it.

T. Paine said...

Jerry, forgive my lack of clarity, sir. I must have given you the wrong impression. We are indeed dealing with absolutes here.

God is the source of all goodness and beauty. Indeed he is goodness itself. He writes that longing for goodness and beauty into each of our hearts and minds in the form of our inner-most consciences.

Even if ones doesn't know or believe in God, one's desire to find goodness and beauty in the world still is a powerful force that is innate to our species.

To deny goodness, beauty, and love is to deny God. Accepting and seeking the same is an act of doing that for which you were created, whether you understand or even deny that fact. Such is my understanding and opinion anyway.

Jerry Critter said...

Let's assume that "To deny goodness, beauty, and love is to deny God." But the converse is not necessarily true. To deny God is to deny goodness, beauty, and love, is it?

Jerry Critter said...

"God is the source of all goodness and beauty."

He is the source, but he does not require belief to access goodness and beauty if I understand what you are saying.

T. Paine said...

John, I recall our friend Mr. Deming’s story of the physicist and the horseshoe. I have to admit that I chuckled when I first read that in spite of myself.

“The mere concept of beauty, for example, is not easily explained by science. It is a sentient experience, and how experience came from a place where none existed before is not explained by the fact of evolution.”

Indeed this is true, Mr. Myste. I would go one step further and say that it is not explained by any of the sciences, just as some aspects of morality that transcend all cultures and geographical locations are not explainable thusly either. I am honestly curious if you have an opinion for where a human’s appreciation and longing for beauty, justice, and goodness might come, if not from God?

Jerry, you stated, “He is the source, but he does not require belief to access goodness and beauty if I understand what you are saying.” Yes, that is indeed what I am saying, my friend. One can still follow that innate inner voice, that conscience, in seeking to do good and seek out beauty in the world, even if one denies or does not understand that this comes from God.

While I certainly don’t expect you to necessarily believe this, I am glad that you understood what I was trying to say, despite my poor attempts to explain. Thanks for hanging with me!

Jerry Critter said...

I appreciate your answers to my questions. However, your self-deprecating comments at the end sound a bit condescending. I think you are above that.

T. Paine said...

Jerry, I apologize if my final comment came across as condescending. I truly did not mean it to be. You asked questions of what I thought and what I took to be sincere curiosity. I tried to answer as charitably as I knew how. I re-read my answers to you and was able to see how my lack of being able to clearly articulate things caused some confusion.

I know that you and I have had some adversarial debates in the past, and truth be told, probably will again in the future. That is fine, but going forward I am going to try to explain the reasons for my beliefs in conservatism, capitalism, faith, and God without having that challenging edge. Approaching things from the point of arrogance and condescension does little to further the debate of ideas. I have been guilty of this at times, particularly with you and Ryan. I want to apologize to you accordingly.

In all honesty, my ability to write clear, concise, and articulate thoughts and blog postings has been exceptionally difficult these past months. I am having a difficult time with the passing of my wife and I know that is the reason for my handicap. I am just now making attempts to write again accordingly.

When I apologized for your having to hang with me despite my poor attempts to explain my thoughts, it wasn’t self-deprecation and condescension which were my goals. I really was struggling to sincerely answer your questions clearly. I appreciate you asking those questions – truly!

Jerry Critter said...

Believe me, your answers are more direct and well thought out than most people.

I am truly sorry for the passing of your wife. I should have expressed it sooner. It is a difficult time and I imagine that your faith gives you great comfort.

T. Paine said...

Thank you, Jerry.

And indeed it is my faith and the love of my family and friends that have sustained me these past seven months. Without any of the three, I cannot imagine how I would have survived thus far. That is particularly so of God and my faith in him, because I know that my wife is now always in his presence.

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