Have you ever realized that enjoyment has a spectrum?
Some time ago I wrote about my inspiration from Jonathan Edwards to keep my own Shadows of Divine Things, a journal which recorded observations of beauty as reflections of God's goodness, as the 'language of God.'
(Looking at the number of entries I've made since then shows me that I've still got a long way to go in learning to appreciate, to truly see the Source within the goodness manifested all around me. All the same, it's been an exciting and empowering process; rubbing my soul's eyes, learning to see clearer and better, learning to enjoy and wonder at the world around me so much more. Unless we stop seeing things as existent only in themselves, or in relation to us, and start to see them as what they are--creations and reflections of a beauty-loving God--we are blind to the wonder they possess, and can only see their external beauty, incomplete without the beauty of their origin.)
On the other hand, looking back at my entries was delightful--they captured the fleeting, wordless charm of the moment when I learnt to wonder. I realized, as I glanced from one to another, that though all those moments dwelt on similar experiences, they encapsulated different shades of delight.
The eye's enjoyment in color, design, shape--the gorgeous rich deep purple of freshly-opened carnations; the riotous harmony of Timberland boots on display, a rainbow of colors so warm and vibrant they seemed alive, 'soul-feeding hues', as I tried to describe them.
Sound--beautiful acapella that made my soul feel like it had grown wings, birthed in the exquisite anguish of extreme beauty, emotions only music could express revealing the fascinating complexity of beauty and passion and pain. It is hard to describe when you're only limited to the dimension of words, vast as that is. As Victor Hugo said: Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot be silent.
Sense--this one took me by surprise; I'd forgotten that God's goodness extended even to those seemingly small, superficial things we take for granted. I may sound hedonistic here, but a dash of hedonism--if hedonism it is--is fine if you've never intentionally appreciated or savored these little blessings before. A deliciously cold shower, the prickle of cool water on your skin. The tenderness of your bed, so overwhelmingly comforting after a draining day. I kid you not; I remember lying on my bed limp with thankfulness and worship.
There was even one entry where I incredulously noted that I'd found this reflection of God's goodness in food. Yes, food. (Interestingly enough, I found that it takes even greater insight and sensitivity for me to really appreciate insignificant blessings like food this way. It's much easier to trace the reflection of God in breathtaking scenery or starry skies, where the beauty is obviously transcendent and points to Something, a Source greater than ourselves.
But food? We take food so much for granted today that sometimes we actually treat it more like a curse--complaining about leftovers, vegetables, calories.)
I'd had a long day teaching and had neglected to bring a snack to keep myself going. Seven hours after lunch I felt positively faint and murderous. Thankfully I got to dinner before anything serious happened, and as if I wasn't hungry enough to appreciate anything which was edible, it was a Good dinner. Good food. Wonderful, wonderful calories. Praise God for calories and flavors and textures. I thought of Jonathan ben Saul when he tasted the honeycomb in the woods, and understood why the Bible said his 'countenance brightened.' Previously I'd felt like I was fading out of sight; now the color and outlines were back in high definition and I was a new person again, mood, energy, ambitions, everything.
Hopefully I didn't just bore you with that long rabbit trail on excerpts from my Shadows book.
What struck me on looking back was the realization that all these experiences of beauty, of inherent goodness, were so varied--a wide scope of delight in different shades and aspects; a whole spectrum of delight, in fact.
And these are just the delights we feel shallowly through our physical senses. Imagine the vastly more complex and deep spectrum of JOY. This vague, sensory happiness doesn't even touch the surface of the power of emotions.
And I suddenly realized in the midst of marveling that this exactly reflected the goodness of God.
His goodness and beauty is so multi-faceted, is such an enormous spectrum of delight to experience, that we can only continue to discover how wide it is. We start by discovering our planet, and our solar system, and then the galaxy, and then that there are countless galaxies out there, that the universe is so enormous we can't even imagine its scope, but can only continue to make our small discoveries step by step in its vastness.
God's goodness is like that. On an enormous spectrum we can't see the end of.
And our spiritual walk is our exploration of that spectrum; discovering new shades and new depths, step by step.
'Human beings carry the unique ability to not merely please God through their existence, but to do so through conscious joy in their Creator.'
~Sweeney and Strachan
Along my one hour bus route to college, almost half of the time is pure highway with hardly any buildings, bridges, or people--fairly rare for Singapore. Instead, I get treated to a gloriously long vista of trees; rain trees, gentle giants whose lacy canopies are so high above that their wispy beauty often goes unnoticed...plump bushy trees like marshmallows , their green sides frosted with feathery orange...slim sad-looking trees...young bare-branched ones with a few brave leaves...choruses of vibrant, happy red leaves gleaming in the sun...
I am so thankful for the trees along my prayer route. They make it so easy to see God. They make His goodness so simple to understand, and so real to feel. Looking at them, absorbing their beauty, loosens my mind and heart from all the busyness and distractions that have tied them into hard knots of efficiency, and my heart naturally turns to God--not, for once, because I need His help, but simply because He is the source of all this beauty.
As Steve DeWitt said: Beauty is God's invitation to delight in Him.
And in that lovely restful frame of mind I slip into prayer as easily as falling asleep (which is an apt analogy since it's on a bus)--specifically, the first stage of prayer, Adoration; it takes on a new meaning after your soul has been steeped in vivid awareness of the goodness of God.
I wish I could reflect God's glory as purely and consistently as the trees do, I thought once.
I may have more potential to do so in a greater scale, but I am a lot more likely NOT to actually maximize that potential.
This lovely quote, however, was a comforting and uplifting reminder to counter-balance that otherwise possibly depressing thought (I say possibly because I couldn't actually feel depressed in the face of all those glorious trees; just humbled in a wholesome, good sort of way.) It was from the short book Jonathan Edwards: Lover of God by Sweeney and Strachan. (I started reading this book mainly for an overview of Edwards' life, work, and impact; but along the way I discovered it had little gems of its own tucked away obscurely, in the middle of a prosaic paragraph of factual autobiographical narration.)
Human beings carry the unique ability to not merely please God through their existence, but to do so through conscious joy in their Creator.
Yes, the trees are pleasing God--and man--simply by being, by existing, by quivering under the load of beauty that they bear. I sense the joy God has in them when I look at them, the delight in His creation which made Him say 'It is good.'
And as for us--we flawed, weak, selfish, foolish humans--we can be this, and even more. When we consciously delight in God, we glorify Him even more than the tree in all its beauty. I don't even have to do something great and splendid before I can glorify Him. I can glorify God through something as simple and natural and desirable as being happy in Him.
To seek joy in Him--because it is joy; because I need it; because it enables me to understand Him; and because it glorifies Him.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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