The Real Reason Beauty Leaves Us Breathless
Picture by Dan Musat
Ever stared spellbound at a vivid sunset or gasped at a misty horizon, or been left breathless by a still mountain fjord or the delicate colours of a butterfly? Most of us have had an encounter with nature’s beauty that left us overwhelmed. In fact, I believe the human heart craves for such beauty. This is why we visit art galleries and sculpted gardens, or seek out the window seat in restaurants, or give flowers to the sick. Natural beauty restores us, refreshes us, inspires us deeply. And for this there is a reason.
When I was asked to talk about a memorable holiday on BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought segment recently, it was this kind of experience that I shared. Because in that moment, it turned out, I was encountering much more than nature.
One Incredible, Memorable Day
Picture by Stefan Stefancik
Some years ago, my wife and I boarded a small plane in Sydney, flew out over the Tasman Sea, and landed in one of the most beautiful places ever—Lord Howe Island. World Heritage listed for its rare plants and animals, it is a paradise of white sands, crystal waters, and untouched rainforests.
Lord Howe is shaped like a crescent with beaches on one side and a lagoon on the other. Swimming off the beach is an experience. One morning I swam with turtles, giant Trevally and shimmering Spangled Emperors, while a large Moon Wrasse hovered nearby, its body flickering blue, red and yellow like a billboard on Piccadilly Circus or Times Square.
The lagoon is equally impressive. A coral reef offshore breaks the waves, leaving the lagoon calm, sparkling, and shallow for hundreds of metres. And it’s there I had an experience I’ll never forget.
The Aquarium at my Feet
Picture by Jeremy Bishop
I was waist-deep in the lagoon, wading round some rocks, when something caught my eye. I stooped to look. At my feet was a mini reef of white, orange and purple corals, and in, around and through them scuttled a world of beautiful creatures: yellow-tailed Elegants rushing here and there; Butterfly Fish with black and yellow stripes; Nemo-style Clown Fish with big, bulging eyes. I towered like a giant over this thriving kingdom, but the fish didn’t mind. Some stared at me, curious about their visitor. I slid my hand into the water and three butterfly fish came to greet me.
The sand, the water, the aquarium at my feet—it was so overwhelmingly beautiful it made me pause in reverence.
In his classic speech The Weight of Glory, CS Lewis described natural beauty like this as ‘the scent of a flower we haven’t yet found’. Beauty points to an unseen source, and on that day I believed he was right.
The Unseen Source of Beauty
When the Jewish prophet Ezekiel encountered God he wasn’t shown a bearded man in white clothes. No, he saw a brilliant blue throne and Someone seated there as radiant as fire with colours exploding all around him. Six hundred years later, Saint John saw something similar: a Being sparkling like precious stones, surrounded by a radiant rainbow. In the Christian scriptures God is revealed as beautiful. And since the Psalms describe God as wearing creation like a coat, maybe we’ve found the hidden flower—the source of the world’s beauty, a beautiful Creator.
I’ll never forget that holiday on Lord Howe Island. And if CS Lewis is right, my reverence was appropriate. Because I wasn’t just encountering nature in that lagoon; I was glimpsing the very beauty of God.
|I explore the idea of seeing God in nature a little more in Unseen Footprints|
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