Further up & further in

I’ve always had a thing for green, rolling hills. I rode horses for many years and loved the feeling of riding across open land, over hills, with green space spreading out around me. I was thrilled? overwhelmed? overcome? riding up a hill on the back of a horse, sailing along, feeling the power beneath me and moving through the beauty around me. I wanted to drink it in, capture it or bottle it somehow. Of course, that’s the thing about beauty. It can’t be contained, can’t be preserved under a glass.

In my early twenties, I read A Severe Mercy. Although I actually didn’t love the book itself, one passage leaped out at me and has remained with me for the past decade.

Vanauken writes,

And of course beauty: the beauty that was for him the link between the ships and the woods and the poems. He remembered as though it were but a few days ago that winter night, himself too young even to know the meaning of beauty, and when he had looked at a delicate tracery of bare black branches against the icy glittering stars: suddenly something that was, all at once, pain and longing  and adoring had welled up in him, almost choking him. He had wanted to tell someone, but he had no words, inarticulate in the pain and glory. It was long afterwards that he realized it had been his first aesthetic experience. That nameless something that had stopped his heart was Beauty.

It was Beauty that first revealed God to me. Not in the sense that people talk about the beauty of the natural world reflecting the glory of God (which is also totally valid), but in the sense that when I encountered Beauty I wanted more of it, I wanted to consume it, to contain it, to possess it. At least, that’s the closest approximation I could come up with. In reality, I guess I wanted union with Beauty, but I couldn’t articulate that. That hunger and desire can’t be satiated by anything but God.

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One of the linear parks bordering the edge of my neighborhood. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who also designed Central Park and Prospect Park in NYC.

Of course I had read (and seen) The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe as a child, but I didn’t read the entire Narnia series until I was an adult. I don’t think it’s any secret that Narnia is an allegory for the Christian narrative. At the end of the final book, The Last Battle, the Unicorn declares,

I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it til now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this…Come further up, come further in!

This yearning and impulse to grab onto Beauty, the desire for more of it, can of course only be satisfied in Heaven. Here on earth, we can only come so far “up,” so far “in.” Beauty here is finite. But Beauty the Person is not.

On Easter, there was a short meditation by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in the Magnificat, just before the Mass readings. He writes,

Faith in the resurrection of Jesus says that there is a future for every human being; the cry for unending life which is a part of the person is indeed answered. Through Jesus we do know ‘the room where exiled love lays down its victory.’ He himself is this place, and he calls us to be with him and in dependence on him. He calls us to keep this place open within the world so that he, the exiled love, may reappear over and over in the world.

How is it that I can forget, over and over, that every longing and desire is fulfilled in Jesus? That he is the Beauty, and the Truth, and the Goodness that I want? Not that he points the way to those things- he is those things. And every time I see Beauty in the world, I see him. And every time I allow someone else to see Beauty, I allow them to see him.

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The golf course in my neighborhood.

Maybe what I love so much about gentle, green hills is their invitation to come further up and further in. To move to Jesus, to see him here in Beauty.

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