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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Space and life and beauty

As I write this I'm on a Confirmation retreat with about 50 freshmen and another 20-25 adults. It's great. We're at Castaway, a Young Life Camp near Detroit Lakes, MN. This is an amazing, beautiful place. I'm one of the fortunate leaders who get to stay in the Clipper. (All the buildings and rooms at Castaway have nautical names.) At left is a picture of the fireplace here. The cathedral ceilings and open beam construction, the intricate ship models and just overall amazingness (that's my daughter's word) of the place -- it feels good.

I was listening to an NPR broadcast -- Krista Tippett's "Speaking of Faith" program -- in which she interviews John Polkinghorne, a British scientist and Anglican priest. (Click here for the full interview.) One of the things they talked about was the presence of beauty in creation.

Why is beauty so important to us? Why do open spaces or beautiful settings move us so powerfully? Or for that matter, why do we like cathedral ceilings? They're terribly impractical from the perspective of heating, dusting, and use of space. Yet there is something in this space here in the living room at the Clipper that draws my heart upward toward the open-beamed ceiling and outward, through the expansive windows, to the broad stretch of lake ice that opens out for miles, starting at the bottom of the bluff below me.

As you read the orderly account of creation in Genesis 1, you can begin to sense that beauty is dear to God's heart. From the intricate beauty of the stars to the majestic movement of a pod of orcas to the wheeling flight of pelicans, God enjoys -- I don't think we're stretching the truth to use that word -- beauty.

Part of what makes something beautiful, I believe, is the interplay between space and abundance. "Abundance" might not be the right word; I'm thinking of the words here in the creation story like "teeming" and "filled" and "variety" and such. Or where in John 10 Jesus says, "I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly." The night sky would not be beautiful without the backdrop of a starless void. The unbearable beauty of falling in love would be less if we had never known loneliness. I remember the joy of finding a patch of blackberries in a forest when we lived near Seattle -- a joy that was only memorable because it was a dry year and the blackberry bushes that filled the road ditches and the vacant lots were bare, but somehow this patch had found an underground source of water, and the berries were full and rich and luscious and the juices dripped down my chin. Beautiful. When space and abundant life are arranged in a way that balances them and sets each off against the other, it is beautiful.

This idea of beauty, that it is about the presence of abundant life starkly contrasted against its opposite so that we can actually see it, tells us something about the heart of God. God is all about giving life. The chaotic void becomes the arena for God to create. The empty world becomes God's garden. The quiet garden needs voices. God brings life, and life abundant, to fill the emptiness of the void.

And we are created in God's image. (We'll have more to say about this soon.) So we go looking for life, especially when our lives seem to have become a tepid canvas without form or beauty to fill them. We seek out all kinds of abundance to fill the empty depths of our souls. New cars. New careers. New lovers. New addictions. We turn to all these things hoping for something that will bring life to us. But John 1 tells us that it is in Jesus that we find life that lights up the darkened space of our days. Beautiful.

If you're looking for more on God's enjoyment of his beautiful creation, just for kicks take a look at Job 38-41. Wow!


  1. Enjoy Castaway. The enjoyment of a vacation has more to do with who your with than where you go.

  2. So true. Vacation to me used to mean going to a spa resort with my girlfriends or on my own. The LORD has changed my attitude, "vacation" to me now means pretty much anything fun. We went to the YMCA on Martin Luther King Jr. day because the kids were off from school, and playing with them in the pool was the best vacation i've had in a long time. PTL the waterslide didn't collapse when i went down it. Very thankful for that. ;o)

    Isn't it Romans that says looking at nature reveals the presence and majesty of God? ("The heavens declare the glory of God" or something like that.) Yes the inside of a cell reveals the glory of God (the rRNA is my favorite - the transcription and translation process is fascinating, studied it in adv. biochem).

    Darwin himself said that if any complex organ were found that couldn't be gotten by successive random mutations, that his "evolutionary" hypothesis would be impossible. Hmmm. bacterial flagella, the eye, the heart? One tiny part missing = no funcional use = no survival or means for natural selection.

    i digress. Back to cooking oatmeal for breakfast.