Friday, 25 November 2011

A Little Beauty to Salve the Soul!

A few nights ago I had a very vivid dream.

Unfortunately, like many dreams, it has since quickly faded from my memory and most of the detail has now gone. I do remember though, that I was outdoors in sunny weather, somewhere in the countryside, and the scenery was beautiful. So beautiful - it seemed to me in the dream - that it was overwhelming. It made me want to weep - right from the core of my being. I instinctively associated the dream and the natural beauty it represented with God - who created this amazing and glorious world that we all live in.

I got up the next morning, opened my back door and stepped out. From my back yard I have a sideways view of the local park - not a stunning piece of natural beauty, just a square piece of grass surrounded by railings, with a few trees and a play area for the local kids. At the moment it's in the process of being re-landscaped, which means there's big piles of earth and temporary construction-site fencing all over it. It was a beautiful morning though. The sun was shining and it was foggy at the same time, giving everything a sort of misty ethereal splendour.

I stood outside for a moment or two to appreciate the scene and to let the beauty of it soak into me. It occurred to me that in spite of some of the less attractive features, there was actually still too much beauty here for me to really take in. I had other things to think about and I needed to get on with my day - I couldn't just stand there feeling overwhelmed in my back yard all day! Other people might notice and I would start to feel silly! So I appreciated it for a moment, didn't let myself get too emotional, and then went back inside to get on with things.

This experience made me think about how saturated with beauty the world around us really is and yet how little we tend to notice it. Beauty for me is quite closely linked with the presence of God - it's one of the ways in which He makes Himself known.

A little while back I read C.S. Lewis' science fiction series, "The Cosmic Trilogy". (They're not of the same calibre as his famous Narnia series and the last book in particular is a bit of a train wreck in my opinion, but he has a brilliant and perceptive mind which nevertheless comes through in these stories). In the second book, "Perelandra", the main character, "Ransom", visits the planet Venus (you have to remember, this was written in 1943!), which turns out to be a young and perfect world, as yet untouched by any kind of evil. Every now and then, Ransom becomes aware of being in Someone's presence. This presence is almost suffocating and unbearable in its intensity - until he accepts and gives into it, when it becomes, "not a load but a medium, a sort of splendour as of eatable, drinkable, breathable gold, which fed and carried you and not only poured into you but out from you as well".

Later on in the story, Lewis describes a situation in which Ransom is feeling abandoned by Maleldil (the name given to God in the story) and is wondering where He has gone, when he suddenly realises that the incredible and over-powering presence he had felt previously is still there and has been all along - it's just that he has somehow managed to block it, unwittingly, from his awareness.

In "How (Not) to Speak of God", Pete Rollins talks about God's "hyper-presence". This is the idea that God is not absent, as we often perceive Him to be, but is actually so present that He overwhelms our senses. He is simply too much for us and we cannot take it all in. Sometimes perhaps, He is gracious and makes His presence felt in a way that we can cope with. Or perhaps something in us becomes a little more open and we are able to appreciate just a little of His love and glory.

I felt a little like that, staring at the view from my back yard. There was more there than I was able - or at that point was willing - to appreciate. I live my life lost in the glory of God, and yet most days I wander around with my head down, oblivious and unable to appreciate it!

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