Monday, November 28, 2005


It began this weekend in Rome--a new opening of my eyes to see the beauty God has been working into his creation, that is. Because our visas here are only valid for three months, we have to leave the country to renew them. I ended up choosing Rome over Budapest, and I was not disappointed. Within the limits of my current experience, Rome is hands-down the most beautiful city in the world. It seems as if architects and fashion designers alike have thrown things such as restraint, efficiency, cost, or even functionality to the wind in favor of form, beauty, class, excess, and pure aesthetic pleasure. Probably the best part for me was St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. In and of itself it is awe-inspiring, but being there during evening Mass made it even better. The Latin chants and melodies echoed in an eerily beautiful way, giving me the impression that the sanctuary was no longer filled with air, but with a physical manifestation of the music. I wanted to pray and be near to God. And I was, as always, thanks to his Spirit whom he has given to dwell inside the sanctuary of my own body.

With my teammates at the Colosseum

This weekend was easy on my eyes. But is there beauty everywhere? That remains to be seen (pun intended). But three things on my flight home today spoke of the beauty of God reflected in his creation.

On the return flight from Rome to Zurich, I sat next to a girl named Natalie, who is studying brass arrangement at the Berklee School of Music. After trading pleasantries and sharing our musical interests, we were both captured by the view of the Apennines, over which we cruised at 500 mph. Winter there had long begun its semi-permanent residence, leaving several thousand feet of mountainside above the treeline decorated for the Advent season in its finest white. Their jagged peaks spread for miles, like so many tents set up by an army of titans, contrastedly sharply by the flat, blue surface of their immediate neighbor, the Tyrrhenian Sea (or perhaps it was the Ligurian Sea at that point).

The lower cupola atop St. Peter's at dusk

But as I gazed out the all-too-small window past Natalie to the mountains below, I noticed how pretty her full, soft lips were. And later, when she bent over to get something from the shoulderbag at her feet, my eyes were drawn to the elegant curves of her back underneath her black cotton shirt. A new thought arose in my gray matter: her back was perhaps one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I probably would never have said that girl's back could be her most attractive feature, or that which I look for in determining her beauty. I forgot about the Apennines.

According to the Genesis account, God made man and woman last of all, the pinnacle of his creation. The inner beauty of the human mind and heart aside, even the physical form of us humans ought to be atop the list of physical creation in which to revel, far above the Grand Canyon or autumn in the Catskills. For that moment today on the plane, that truth was clear. I suppose the Romans had it right, after all: for over two millenia, their art has been fixed upon the human form, although sometimes eschewing the graceful slopes of Grecian art for defined musculature. But the attention their artists have paid to the details of even toe and tendon, bellybutton and eyelid speaks a strong word nonetheless.

Michaelangelo's Pieta. I admire this greatly for how one can see that every last ounce of life has been exhausted from Jesus' body, now lying in his mother's arms. "And a sword shall pierce your own soul, too."

And so it is with details: Natalie and I parted ways after landing, and I caught my second flight. Istanbul beckoned. Having a window seat all to myself with no black-clad beauty to intervene, I was afforded more time to take in the sun-bleached eastern regions of the Alps before they gave way to the drab brown of the less-chiseled Caucus Mountains. The armies were still encamped, only with their tents pitched a little bit higher. Soaring at 30,000 feet affords perks such as this, but as a result, the clouds between the moutains and Swiss Air flight 1804 put an end to my alpine viewing. But these were no ordinary clouds. These blinding-white, billowy masses were cousins to the fiery ones that provided last night's backdrop to my evening viewing of Rome from atop St. Peter's. This was the Transfiguration.

The clouds over northern Rome at sunset

Each cloud had its own shape, like a heavenly fingerprint. This is owing to the fact that each cloud is an amalgamation of an uncountable number of water droplets that have, through static electrical forces, adhered to dust particles swept into the sky by the wind. Each droplet is made of perhaps trillions of molecules of water, each containing four hydrogen atoms and two oxygen atoms (water doesn't exist as H2O alone). Within each oxygen atom, a core of eight protons and eight neutrons is 'orbited' (and I use that term loosely) by sixteen electrons moving at speeds that make no sense even to computers, let alone our own minds. "'Nature,' said Thoreau in his journal, 'is mythical and mystical always, and spends her whole genius on the least work.' The creator, I would add, churns out the intricate texture of least works that is the world with a spendthrift genius and an extravagance of care. That is the point."* Don't even get me started on that whole 'no-two-snowflakes-are-identical' bit. I'll lose my mind.

From the dizzying, buzzing complexities of subatomic particles to the hulking masses of mountains and everything in between--the curves of a woman's back included--beauty is everywhere. May the Lord grant us all inquisitive, perceptive eyes to see it and grateful, wondering hearts to cherish it. Yes, even here in Istanbul. Or Detroit. Or Modesto. But everything we see here is only a dim reflection of what we'll see in God's face in heaven.

*Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (New York: Harper Collins, 1999, 128).


Robin said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed Rome! I was able to go there for a long weekend when I studied abroad in London and absolutely LOVED it. Rome is truly one of the most beautiful cities and the food is amazing!!!

halfmom said...

Here's another (besides you) reformed theologian who could use some comments if you ever have the time.

StillWater said...

Wow! Semi permanent make up has alot of uses! But did you know that a woman consumes over 4 to 9 lbs of lipstick in her lifetime! Here is the link that I found that shows all of the research: