Thursday, February 4, 2010

Beauty

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. (Psalm 27.4)

Gazing

Here’s a little exercise. Steal away to a quiet place free from any intrusive visual and aural stimuli. Close your eyes and “look” at God. Chances are the first images you see correspond with those implanted in your youth. He/She is a “god”—an immense, translucent Entity enthroned in Heaven. Once your eyes adjust to His/Her brightness, God takes on one or more personages you personally embrace: a Parent, Creator, Friend, Savior, et al. The abstract quickly takes on a concrete, finite form. But keep looking. Allow those pictures to melt away until the boundaries confining God become meaningless and a more transfixing portrait emerges. He/She becomes less defined as a Being than a Presence, an ineffable feeling of pure love, light, and perfection—in other words, unparalleled Beauty.

Looking at God, then, involves gazing into the Presence to absorb its purity and power in ways that confound articulation or descriptors. When we “behold the beauty of the Lord,” as the King James Version renders Psalm 27.4, God’s majesty and might prove all encompassing and unsurpassed. He/She truly becomes All in all, the Essence of our lives and world. Before we trip the light fantastic into metaphysical hype, though, we must ask why gazing upon the beauty of the Lord is so important. The answer is fairly basic and utterly practical. When we see God in all His/Her beauty and conclude He/She is All in all, we also see God is All we need.

Expanding Our Vision

David’s image of dwelling forever in God’s house to gaze on His/Her beauty arrests us by seeming out of context. Psalm 27 is about a man repeatedly thrust into ugly situations. Verse 2 describes evil men advancing to devour him, while armies besiege him and war breaks out against him in verse 3. Yet these woes are couched in the defiance proclaimed in his opening: “The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” Thus, David remains sure the cannibals and aggressors “will stumble and fall;” despite the assaults, “even then will I be confident.” And where does David locate his wellspring of assurance? He finds safety by gazing upon God’s beauty. Envelopment in divine splendor shields him from earthbound harm. He writes in verse 5, “For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.”

Modern photorealism puts us at a great disadvantage in terms of expanding our vision of God. David and the other ancients find it much easier to shake their literal-mindedness and perceive God as something other than imaginary. Their image is surreal in the strictest sense, meaning “more than real.” They describe God in superhuman terms because His/Her beauty and attributes exceed human bounds. Isaiah 59.1 says, “Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.” We read in Deuteronomy 33.27, “The eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms.” And Psalm 121.3 and 5 says, “He who watches over you will not slumber... The LORD watches over you—the LORD is your shade at your right hand.” These visions emphasize God is too big, timeless, and tireless for human comparison—too enormous for walls, too powerful for words. We need to see that. And once we do, we mustn’t ever forget it.

Whom We’re Dealing With

Learning to gaze upon God’s beauty goes beyond aesthetics. In fact, while we can’t help but be awestruck by it, admiration isn’t the point. The more we train our faculties to perceive God as something Other than us the better we grasp Whom we’re dealing with. Heightened awareness of His/Her boundless beauty increases our faith in His/Her boundlessness. Just as there is no end to God’s beauty, we see there is no end of His/Her power, perfection, and most of all, love. God’s reach exceeds human scale. God’s hearing supersedes mortal capacity. God’s protection is impregnable; His/Her support never weakens. God is impervious to fatigue. He/She overshadows our every moment and move. When we gaze at the infinite beauty of God, we see these and innumerable other attributes that assure our wellbeing and progress.

Psalm 27.4 brings to life the benefits of picturing God’s presence as our hiding place. As ugly and impossible as things get, we are ensconced in inexplicable beauty. Darkness cannot penetrate its light. Armies and aggressors cannot challenge its supremacy. In effect, we’re blinded by beauty. We’re aware of troubles encircling us, but their threats are eclipsed by divine perfection. God is our light and our salvation. Whom shall we fear? Of whom shall we be afraid?

Gazing at God’s infinite, perfect beauty sharpens our awareness of His/Her infinite, perfect power and love. It hides us from ugliness and eclipses fear.

(Next: Our House)

4 comments:

Cuboid Master said...

The cares and concerns of this world are a constant barrier to experiencing the fullness of God's Majesty and Might. So shackled are we by our senses that His brilliance *feels* as if it has dimmed. But certainly, it never dims but burns unceasingly. I often feel frustrated by the confinement of earthly pain, but I know it is only this devilish world playing tricks on my perception. How humbling it is to be human! And how loving and gracious is the Lord.

Tim said...

Indeed, CM, a key element in gazing on God's beauty comes by "crossing over" from what we physically see and feel into the realm of faith, where we see God as He actually is. Yet like everything else in this way of life, the more we practice, the better we get at it.

Lord knows David didn't come by this "hiding in beauty" naturally. In Psalm 22, he's completely exposed, crying "My God, why have You forsaken me?" Yet he realizes the safety there is in God's presence in 27 and determines to enter and remain there.

As you point out, it's often very difficult to accomplish this because it requires us to get past our doubts, fears, and pains first in order to be shielded from them. But God's beauty is everlasting and always welcoming. It does not fail. Nor must we fail in our constant attempt in to seek His presence, gaze on His beauty, and find shelter there.

Thank you so much for these thoughts. We are humbled by our limits--and we are so fortunate to have an endlessly loving and gracious Lord!

Blessings always,
Tim

jake - aka the comment novelist said...

My goodness is your gift beautiful, Tim.

My sincere hope and prayer is that all of us here who are blessed by your words can shine in our giftings and callings in the same way you shine in yours!!!

Tim said...

Jake, I've got such a long way to go, but getting there is the point, no? We all shine, my friend, and I can't tell you how many times I've sat here pecking away, wishing I had more of your tenderness and wit or more of another's depth of knowledge and empathy, etc.

To cite one of Claire's recent posts, we are all products of the refining fire, constantly honing and purifying our gifts. Most of what you see here is merely a reflection of the beautiful gifts you and everyone else brings to S-F.

We are all amazingly blessed and talented!

Peace and joy and warmth,
Tim