A while back, my wife Angie and I had a vacation in the Canadian Rockies. The Canadian Rockies are in the province of Alberta in western Canada. (Incidentally, to a degree, Canadians think of Alberta like Americans think of Texas: a province with lots of natural resources and a spirit of independence.) If you’ve been to the Rockies in either Alberta or Colorado, or the Alps in Europe, it’s hard not only to be impressed, but to have somewhat of a spiritual experience. Looking at the magnificence of these mountains, evoked in me the same inclination to reverence that I get when I’m in a famous church or cathedral: a sense of the divine presence, that makes you want to lower your voice and a feeling that bowing your head or genuflecting wouldn’t be out of line.
In one place we visited there were plaques describing how over a period of 350 million years, the mountains had been formed. While it’s impossible to get your head around a number like this, I thought of all of the generations of people who have lived and died during that time. And that while many of us think we’re the center of the universe one can’t help but be aware, as the very earth continues to evolve under our feet, that it truly is not all about us; that there’s something bigger at play here if we could but truly see it. However, does that also mean we should feel unimportant, that we are insignificant beings of no consequence? Au contraire, mon ami!
Jesus taught us that our God, our Father, is a personal God. In Luke 12 we are told not to be afraid because “Even the hairs of your head have all been counted”. That God knows each of us personally and intimately. St Augustine said: “God is closer to us than we are to ourselves”. So how do we reconcile our seemingly small place in the universe with God’s overwhelming love for each and every one of us?
Part of our challenge in understanding our place in God’s creation comes from our (overblown?) ego’s. Now our ego’s are not inherently bad. After all they were created by God and serve a purpose in our lives. However, if not managed appropriately they can lead us into difficulty and impede our ability to actually “see” what’s in front of us. We come into this world with a yearning that will not be satisfied until we are united with God. However, as Bishop Robert Barron sums up in one of his talks: that in this world we are led to believe that if we have enough power, wealth, pleasure or honor that we’ll be happy. While at some level we know this not to be true, it is extremely difficult not to be caught up to some degree in these temptations.
The joy of beauty, whether it be natural like the Rockies or a radiant sunset, or indeed any masterpiece or work of art, is that it somehow takes us beyond ourselves. We can and are meant to be, awestruck. Part of the reason for this reaction I believe is that we are getting a sense or hint of God’s presence. A presence we recognize because of the divine image within each of us. And while these days, the natural reaction to anything of wonder whether “man made” or natural, can be to take 10 more pictures and then move on, it is really an invitation to pause. To let go of the noise in our heads and just be present to the moment.
Perhaps to realize that the God that created us in His own image and likeness, is reaching out to us personally as His pride and joy, to let us know of our significance. That the only thing God forgets about us is our sins. That He still looks upon His creation, and as it says in Genesis, sees that it is good.