Friday, July 02, 2010

The Beauty of Nature

Over the past couple weeks, during which time we took a little vacation down to Lake Mokoma, PA, I've been enjoying the restive beauty of the natural world. The beginning of summer is such a delightful time of year, especially in the eastern woodlands. Everything is green and rich with life, and merely being in the middle of it lends a feeling of vibrancy to the soul. One of the things I love about living in Maine is the woods. I've always loved them--the deep, silent beauty of trees and trails that stand apart from the works of man, giving us vast retreats into God's creation. Here in Calais, we're blessed to have not only the forests near at hand, but also the coast--the cold northern Atlantic, and the rugged majesty of Maine's headlands. The quote for this week is from a work by an Eastern Orthodox monk/hermit, "On the Mountains of the Caucasus" (I don't think it has been translated into English in its entirety--the excerpt below was quoted in Bishop Alfeyev's The Mystery of Faith). This passage follows after a story about the author looking out over a mountain vista, and it describes the feeling of encountering the ineffable when we look at nature's beauty, and being shaped by that experience for the life to come:

"So it was that we sat in silence, looking in amazement and in holy rapture sustaining our hearts, experiencing those exalted moments of the inner life when one feels the closeness of the invisible world, enters into sweet communion with it and listens to the terrible presence of the Godhead. It is at such moments, replete with sacred feelings, that one forgets all earthly things. The heart is warmed like wax before the fire and becomes receptive to impressions of the celestial world. It burns with the purest of love for God, and one tastes the bliss of inner enrichment; one hears an inner voice whispering that it is not for earthly vanities but for participation in eternity that the short days of our earthly existence are given."

There's a fair philosophical argument to be made that our capacity to see and appreciate beauty is a pointer to our special creation as humans; and that our delight in the beauty of nature leads us into a deeper delight in the beauty of God. And we believe that all this beauty around us, created by the hand of God, will not ultimatly be lost to us, but will be restored and transformed into what it was always meant to be--ever more beautiful, suffused by the radiance of God himself when he dwells in the new heavens and the new earth. In the words of the great Cappadocian Father, Gregory of Nazianzus:

"Why am I faint-hearted in my hopes? Why do I behave like a mere creature of the day? I await the voice of the archangel, the last trumpet, the transformation of the heavens, the transfiguration of the earth, the liberation of the elements, the renovation of the universe."