Monday, July 20, 2009

For the Glory of God

I am sitting on my deck this morning. I have with me a book, a laptop, and a cup of coffee. It's a perfect morning.

On the corner of one of our flower beds there is a large nepeta plant, a member of the Lamiaceae or catnip family. It is in full bloom and covered with bumblebees. Periodically a hummingbird zips in and works the small individual flowers that line each stem before moving on to other plants. A couple of times this morning goldfinches have landed on stems of the plant, bending them over to the ground. I don't know if the finches are looking for insects or the seeds that are forming as the flowers are spent.

The flowering nepeta, the bumblebees, the hummingbird, and the goldfinch are all engaged in a frantic effort to use the few summer months we have in Minnesota to perpetuate their individual species. They are unaware of this, of course. They are just doing what nature has given them the tools and drive to do.

The only one aware of what they are doing is me. I have just enough interest in the way things work that I will read about the life cycle and the reproductive habits of the birds and the bees and the plants we have in our yard. For instance, unlike every other bird that makes an appearance in my backyard, the goldfinches are just now getting about the business of laying eggs. They time the arrival of their young with the arrival of their favorite sources of food, particularly thistle seeds, which show up late in summer. I have an interest in knowing these kinds of things about my backyard visitors.

But that's not the first thing that comes to mind when the goldfinch drops in on the nepeta. It's awesome; it's just simply beautiful. For a moment conscious thinking stops; some other part of my mind and body is triggered.

For a moment, and then the goldfinch leaves and I begin to think about what just happened. Where does this aesthetic sense come from? Why are we stunned by beauty, moved by music, overcome with awe when we look up at the stars at night? What purpose does it serve? Is there some evolutionary advantage to be gained by being more attuned to beauty? There certainly is no financial advantage. Wall Street executive or concert hall pianist? Making beautiful music rarely pays well.

But then the person making the music didn't choose their profession with an eye for retiring wealthy. They were likely moved to tears at some time in their childhood by a piece of music. They wanted to be able to recreate the possibility of experiencing that moment again for themselves and others. So they began to play and practice an instrument. For years and years, just for the sake of beauty. In much the same way that my wife and I have spent the better part of a decade replacing our lawn with a riot of color, just so we can see a goldfinch bend a flower stem to the ground. It makes no sense, really.

For the glory of God is a phrase that comes to mind. Why is there so much beauty? For the glory of God. Which I take it to mean that there is no utilitarian purpose to beauty. Just as there is no utilitarian purpose to the universe itself. Stars explode; planets are born; bumblebees fly against all physical odds; goldfinches take our breath away. And if we are lucky enough or smart enough to be able to lift our noses from the grindstone of the "real" world for a few moments, we might see that there is beauty everywhere we look. For no purpose. But for the glory of God.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have a theory about this. The things of unexpected beauty (and perhaps even the expected) generally bypass the brain and speak directly to the (choose what works for you) heart, spirit, soul. Only afterwards does analytical thought chase after the incredible delight of spotting a rose-breasted grosbeak, a juvenile chickadee, a butterfly settling for a moment on the arm of your deck chair, an indescribably beautiful passage of music (a heart song?) possibly heard for the first time, but not necessarily.

That's my theory, and I'm sticking to it.

Thanks for this, Jay.