Finding Meaning in Reflecting
So much has been made of the “problem of pain”, but what about the invitation of beauty? As I stood atop the giant concrete blocks that border the path leading down to the lake near Skaters Cabin, I was somehow simultaneously thrilled and subdued by the silent dance of the clouds. They gathered, spread, shifted and and gathered again as they caught the ever changing colors of light sent from the setting sun. Warm white, yellow, orange, rich pink, and vibrant red made successive appearances in the midst of the shadows that were tinged a constant blue by the clear and darkening sky overhead. The whole incomparable display was magnified in perfect unison on the smooth as glass waters of the Mendenhall Lake, which spared no visual luxury as it floated a small fleet of crystalline icebergs and drew in a low lying veil of mist from the opposing shore.
At moments like these, I wish I would cry. I wish I were as emotionally overcome with gratitude as am cognitively aware of the significance and reality of the beauty in the world around me. But we are trained by our circumstances and our mentors to stifle our awe and keep tight reigns on our emotional response to glory. Could it be that this attitude has been conditioned because the beauty seems not to last? The light inevitably fades, and this life ultimately ends in the darkness of death, so what do we make of entrancing splendor or sweet perfume? What do we do with indulgent taste, gentle touch, and really, any goodness we happen to find in the world? It seems that we are forced to hold life at arms length in order not to grow too fond of living, in order not to long for what cannot last.
Beauty, in all its forms, is temporal, but it is not the vain temptation we fear it to be. The heart stirring acts of kindness and the staggering mountain landscapes don’t fail in their purpose toward us because their purpose never was to be a sustaining satisfaction. Instead, the value inherent in all momentary goodness is to reflect to us the Good that is eternal and all satisfying. C.S. Lewis put it far more eloquently than I ever could when he wrote:
In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. – C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
Because I love beauty and long for its permanence, my conclusion is that beauty must be mean to lead me into a goodness that lasts. It leads me in by way of reflection, and all of a sudden, it’s okay to let the world have meaning! I’m free to let the beauty spark a longing in me, and I needn’t keep my distance from the things it will hurt most to lose. From the sand between your toes to the stars in the sky and from melodies to memories, this life and every corner of this universe is accomplishing its purpose of demonstrating the Glory of God.
If the message here were only that beauty is true and can be trusted, that there is meaning in this world, we would have a good reason to be excited, but the gift doesn’t stop there. As a part of this world, we (each and every person) have been given the incredible ability to appreciate beauty. No other animal, organism, or object can see and savor beauty as can a human being. Each individual has been shaped by life to see goodness from a unique and valuable perspective, and it’s a perspective we can share. Not only are we witnesses, but we are a part of the artwork itself. You and I have both been granted specialized reflective qualities. When we reflect the immeasurable beauty of our maker, not bringing attention to our own fleeting goodness, we find the perfect joy of living in the midst of our purpose.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27 (ESV)
These word from near the beginning of the Bible tell us clearly that we have meaning. God created us to bear his image, and that means that you are equipped to reflect God in incredible ways. Your creativity, forgiveness, thoughtfulness, and love are pictures of God no storm or river or shoreline could ever paint. If you’ve never been able to accept this truth before, please take a moment to consider the vastness of the idea that you were carefully made to enjoy and reflect the infinite goodness of God.