The God of nature, and the origin of all beauty, is my God
Elizabeth Rowe, Devout Exercises of the Heart
Broadly speaking, the secular scientist understands the material world as nature, as a system of cause-and-effect interlocking laws. A Christian, whether scientist or not, sees this world as creation.
What is the difference? Not that believers grasp beauty and the others don’t. It’s just that there is no source for that beauty. It just is. The existence of the world is a final brute fact. Put another way—and more philosophically—nature is eternal and bears no reason for its existence. The Christian sees nature as contingent and based on God’s necessary existence, the God who created for the purpose of joy and beauty.
The elders in John’s Revelation (4:11) sing this:
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.
Since God is Beauty itself, when God decides to create, the world will be filled with beauty. Being contingent on God, it is by nature (as it were) beautiful.
Last week, I taught a course on spiritual life and the particular topic of visio divina (divine viewing, related to lectio divina, or “divine reading,” which I describe in an earlier post). Since I don’t know much about the topic (I was substituting for my wife Laura), I will tell you what I know: visio divina involves the use of our eyes as a means of perceiving God.
Usually this spiritual practice involves art, but what if we took this stunning version of spirituality—the one that the Puritan poet Elizabeth Rowe points to—and used the natural world as visio divina? I think we would begin to fulfill at least two things: 1) the reason we were created, and 2) a perception of the world as it truly is. We would see the world as creation in a way that satisfies our souls.