During the past few autumn weeks, the gentle mountainsides of southwest Virginia have shown so splendidly with living color that a person might find oneself tempted to worship them. Then I had a chance to scale Pilot Mountain down in northern NC. And its majestic strangeness also invited a kind of pagan adoration.
Wisdom 13 seems to sympathize with paganism, with the worship of beautiful places and things. Because God has indeed made so much bewitching beauty. Some modern philosophers, theologians, and poets have had a similar sympathy for the openness of the pagan heart–because the pagan at least knows how to abandon himself to the life-giving power of communion with the earth.
Modern man has achieved a great capacity to analyze and control Mother Nature. So much so that we have a tendency to forget that God created it. We forget that creation has a mysterious depth which we will never completely understand, which we must simply revere. We analyze and control things so much that we have a tendency to forget that religion is actually our most natural, and most important, pursuit. Religion—that is, submission to a higher intelligence, a higher power, a greater glory than ourselves—religion is what makes us most fully human, most fully ourselves. Religion organizes our minds and our lives; religion unifies our being; religion keeps us open to reality.
Which is worse? To worship the Blue Ridge, or to think of the Blue Ridge as a little sideshow in my purely secular life? Which disrespects God more? Wisdom 13 seems to suggest that God has more sympathy for a soul that mistakes something beautiful for the Source of all beauty, rather than the soul who concludes foolishly and blindly that beauty is really just a fluke, nothing more than a photo-op.
Pagans can graduate easily enough to true religion, upon seeing the most-beautiful thing ever: Christ crucified for love. But how can anyone find a way out of the bottomless pit of modern secularism? The technocratic mind assumes that beauty is merely something we see–atoms in a shape that we arbitrarily find pleasing. It doesn’t really mean anything, and we owe it nothing.
But the truth is: beauty exists, utterly independent of our perception of it–and it takes a lifetime of religious discipline on our part for us to see it as it truly is. Beauty is a language being spoken by the Friend to Whom we most desperately need to listen. We have a solemn duty to revere the beautiful. And to worship the One Who made it, and Who communicates with us by its very beauty.