Ravished By Beauty
Recently, Rich and I spent a couple days the staff, elders, and mates of Living Stones Church in Reno, Nevada. The lead pastor, Harvey Turner, and the 50 plus people attending the retreat were an absolute delight. They love Jesus and want a deepening relationship with the Triune God as they serve their community. They listened intently and asked great questions.
The kick off of A Leader’s Journey (a once a quarter, 12 retreat experience over the course of three years) was in Lake Tahoe. The beauty of that place stuns the soul. It opens the soul to what is beyond. It made the retreat a more meaningful experience. The beauty of the lake and mountains was also a powerful visual aid of the truth I had been reading about a few days earlier in Ravished by Beauty (by Belden Lane).
What a book! He explains how the Triune God seeks to ravish us with the beauty of nature and human sexuality. Specifically, he shows how Calvin, Edwards, and the Puritans understood nature and sex to be two of God’s gifts that help us know and experience the intimacy of our union with Christ. These gifts excite and intensify desire, a yearning that God intended to move the soul toward Him.
Interestingly, the Puritans were so caught up in the world of nature that they had to caution themselves against the danger of pantheism (because they saw God so clearly in nature). When it comes to sex they were so explicit (even in Sunday morning sermons!) that they had to put up high boundaries by cautioning themselves of the dangers of sexual sins. They didn’t do this because they were “straight-laced prudes.” Just the opposite was true. “They simply had a spirituality which fostered so much interior passion that setting appropriate boundaries for their exterior behavior was absolutely necessary” (p. 25). In other words, they encouraged caution because they were thinking about sex so much!
Unfortunately, the Puritans came to be known for their cautions against pantheism and passion rather than for the reasons for their caution—being ravished by nature and sex so that the soul would be inflamed with a greater desire for God. For them all of reality was relational. God created it, sustained it, was in it, and was using it to ravish our souls, to draw us to Himself with great passion, to point to His glory.
Truth, goodness, and beauty are the three words the Church has used to describe the One who describes Himself as “I am.” The Apostle John used one word—love. Such a description requires God to be relational and thus Trinity (the Father loved the Son through the Spirit before creating someone to love or else God would not be perfect within Himself). And it is the loving relationship of the three Persons and what their love compels them to create that requires the word “beauty.”
The older I get the more my soul needs beauty. I’ve done too much, seen too much, and heard too much. The brokenness of life saddens and sickens my soul. The only antibiotic strong enough to heal the ugly effects of “missing the mark” is beauty. That is why I pray every day to be “ravished by beauty.”
But I have to be careful for what I want because beauty is a double-edged sword. I want to be ravished by beauty; but that means I will be over-charged with desire. Beauty enflames desire because desire always pursues non-possessible beauty. Beauty leaves me with a never-ending, always deepening, ever increasing yearning. And the reality of my mortal condition is that “the only desire truly able to satisfy is a desire which cannot be filled” (p. 5). Its no fun that my greatest joy lies in what I cannot possess. As Lane puts it, “Every experience of beauty involves the joyous agony of a desire unattained” (p. 6).
So sometimes I’m tempted to settle for “comfortably numb” (as Pink Floyd sang). But being numb is not the gift Jesus offers. He offers the beauty of Himself so as to excite me for more of His presence. This is why I need solitude and silence. This is why I must engage in contemplative reading and prayer. These disciplines puts me in touch with my union with Christ and the communion that flows from my deepest reality (like being “one with nature” or one with my wife, Joy). They heighten and heal my aesthetic taste for God’s splendor, glory, and beauty so that I can deeply enjoy God’s good gifts.
Jim Cofield serves with Rich Plass at CrossPoint, a ministry dedicated to strengthening the souls of leaders. You can follow them at www.cpministry.wordpress.com