The Perspective of Beauty
This fall I have the privilege of serving as a mentor at Summit’s Summit Semester program. One of the lesser benefits of this opportunity is the chance to spend the fall out in the gorgeous mountains of southern Colorado. So far, I’ve taken at least a few minutes each night to step out and look at the stars. Having grown up between Baltimore and Washington D.C., actually seeing stars is something of a novelty.
As I’ve let my mind wander each evening, I’ve been reminded of humanity’s fascination with the stars. Whether working on traveling to them, or using them as a muse, the stars capture our imagination. As a former professor of mine has pointed out, “But though man has it in him to blot out / The sun, these lesser lights still often find / The chinks in the dark armor of his mind.”1
One of these musings pops up in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Having crossed into Mordor, Frodo and Sam take turns keeping watch through each night. During his watch, Sam creeps out from their hiding place for a better view of their surroundings. What he sees blows me away every single time I read the books (which I’m working on for the sixth time at the moment):
There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.2
Tolkien strikingly depicts the qualitative difference between Good and Evil. Just as the star is unaffected by the clouds below it, Good is not defeated by Evil in the world around it. Additionally, Tolkien indirectly shows a path for reminding ourselves of this fact. Nature’s beauty demonstrates Good’s inherent superiority.
This reminder is needed today. Indeed, one could argue that it is needed in every time and place. But events today highlight our need for the larger perspective it provides. Between troubles abroad (Russia and Ukraine, ISIS in the Middle East), domestic struggles (influx of illegal immigrants, failing economy), and the day-to-day struggles we face, it’s easy to wonder whether Good’s victory is so secure. And this wondering signals our need to be reminded of the bigger picture.
At the outset, it is important to realize that Evil is often rather strong in the world around us. Paul speaks of this when he reminds the Corinthians, “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)3 The wasting away Paul mentions is a reference to the difficulties faced as an evangelist. Reading about his life, it’s clear that Paul knew that standing with truth was not an easy road to walk. However, he faces the suffering in life with a perspective that extends beyond this world. Paul goes on to say that “This light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
“The things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” This sounds rather like Sam’s musing, that “in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” And it is here that we need to come. Our first lesson is captured by Paul—God’s victory is above and beyond our lives and experiences here. Evil’s apparent victories are light and momentary, for it has already been dealt the crushing blow. Our second lesson is illustrated by Sam—nature provides a visual reminder of God’s victory. The beauty of nature is a reminder of God’s goodness and His victory over Evil. So, when life feels particularly painful, there could be some value in taking a little time to step out and look at the stars. An earlier quote from Sam captures the tension well—and sums up the larger perspective that nature can provide:
“Though here at journey’s end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the Stars farewell.”4
This post focused on nature’s ability to adjust our perspective on the world around us. How do you move your focus from the trouble at hand to the larger picture?
What do you think it looks like to help others adjust their perspective?
2. J.R.R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993. 957.
3. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
4. J.R.R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings. 943