Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Mist and Sun and the Meaning of Life

I love back roads. Swervy, windy, half in shadow, half in sun ribbons of asphalt. They're like "mobile prayer" for Rebecca and I. Add a little Lord of the Rings or Dances with Wolves soundtrack music into a Sunday drive and you are GONE... floating away to Happy Land, the Land of Contemplation! And all's right with the world! Well, mostly. My drive into school each morning is a gift; back roads abound! There are a number of paths to take and I generally mix it up from day to day. Case in point: just last week, after passing it for three years in moderate "haste," I decided to take "Grubb's Mill Road" for a spin. Now don't judge a road by its name. As I made my way over hill and dale (what is a dale anyway?) I was literally captured by the sunlight streaming through morning mist over wet grass. I flipped on the hazards and with the handy iPhone (I know I know, Geek Boy Returns) I snapped a few pics. One is handsomely portrayed in this post above for your observation. Click on it and it should fill the screen.... go ahead, try it! Now curiously, I was able to use this image as a teaching moment in class that very day. I start off my freshmen theology course light on the homework, heavy on the heartwork. I invite them into a fresh way of looking at the world.... into a "sacramental" vision. Afterall, this is how a Catholic sees the universe..... as a mosaic full of meaning, an icon, a Mystery wrapped in ribbons of protons, neutrons, and electrons. This is pretty dang exciting. Here's that quote I love to quote... again: To materialists this world is opaque like a curtain; nothing can be seen through it. A mountain is just a mountain, a sunset just a sunset; but to poets, artists, and saints, the world is transparent like a window pane - it tells of something beyond....a mountain tells of the Power of God, the sunset of His Beauty, and the snowflake of His Purity. - Bishop Fulton Sheen Back to the back roads.... This image (above) was breathtaking. And I guess what intrigues me about an encounter like this is how the physical channels the spiritual, the visible can communicate the invisible. How does it happen that we alone in the universe can "see" this? Apprehend this? Comprehend this and be captivated by this? Objectively, the scene I saw was made of water vapor, chlorophyll, and a swirl of elements bending and twisting in the rising heat of a large ball of gas 93,000,000 miles away. But it was beauty that caught me. The squirrels didn't stop and stare. Mr. Bluebird didn't land on my shoulder and strike up a conversation on the matter, cool as that would have been. For some reason, I saw in these elements a wonder, a story, a window that opened into my own experience. In this sacrament of the present moment, as the mist swirled before the sun, I thought of our sorrow thick and dank, sapping us of hope. The trees reached in and broke its cloudy mask, like the hands of friends praying for us, reaching into our lives and rooting us in hope. And then the Sun, beyond hope, pierced that mist of melancholy like a dozen swords of holy light that shone and fell upon the earth. And behold, there was light and heat and a new kind of "illumination." I think it was Dostoyevsky who once wrote that, in the end, "Beauty will save the world." Well, Beauty has arrived, and often lies waiting for us on the back roads, in places least expected, in sudden and sharp turns from shadow into light. Perhaps all we're asked to do is stop and look with love and gratitude.
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