It’s been a while since I’ve posted a Meditation for Freethinkers, so here’s one for Monday . . .
When I was studying for the ministry, I was an avid photographer. One day I had an awesome idea. To create a photographic montage consisting of five photos from nature to spell out the name Jesus. So, I looked high and low to find the letters of Jesus’ name, either hidden in the outline of clouds or in the twisted branches of trees, because I thought this would be a neat way to express how the presence of God could be felt everywhere in the natural world.
Looking back, this was a silly idea, but certainly not out of step with many of the imaginative ways Christians use to “see” God working in their daily lives.
I got as far as the letter J. This was easy. I found a J suspended in the bend of a hanging tree branch. Then I set about searching for the letter E. I looked for months. There were no Es to be found in the clouds—only bunny rabbits and cotton candy—and no Es hiding in the underbrush of trees and bushes no matter how much I searched.
I should have considered this an omen. Jesus’ name, or even an easier name such as God, were nowhere to be found in the natural world. I might have had better luck if I’d searched for these names using a different language. Like Chinese. You know, because Chinese words and letters kind of look like sticks, and the Chinese symbol for Jesus might just be easier to spot. (Like I said, it was a stupid idea.)
Although I never completed my montage, I still felt a connection to God during my forays into nature after church. What I was really feeling, though, were emotions we are all capable of feeling: that profound sense of aesthetic wonder we all enjoy when we are immersed in the beauty and wonders of our natural world.
Whether or not believers experience a heightened sense of aesthetic wonder beyond what non-believers experience is difficult to say. I’m sure similar neural pathways fire up in everyone’s brain when it comes to experiencing aesthetic wonder regardless of whether a person believes in God or not. I suppose this ability has a lot to do with how a person feels about nature in the first place; such as how much they are already inclined to derive pleasure and inspiration directly from the natural world.
But I do know my own capacity to feel aesthetic wonder has grown significantly from my days as a Christian. This is because I found a better way to fill my days with aesthetic wonder, by backing my observations up with juicy facts and informative details.
The CliffNotes version of creation
If you think about it, when it comes to inspiring people with aesthetic wonder the Bible’s account of creation is woefully inadequate. It would have been nice if the writer (s) of Genesis could have expounded on the miraculous details of how God created our world. Instead, believers today must content themselves with the CliffsNote version of creation, which amounts to just a few paltry verses about how life began on our planet earth, by a story that should have otherwise filled the Library of Congress.
These days, of course, the available scientific information about the history of our universe and planet does fill the Library of Congress. So, people (even Christians) should feel comfortable dumping the creation story altogether—or perhaps, just reassign the fable to a shelf in the children’s section.
If you’re interested in filling more of your days with aesthetic wonder, this is a great link to learn more: It’s all about the science behind experiencing awe.
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