Thursday, July 9, 2015

Desert Solitaire

"Just remember this my girl when you look up in the sky. You can see the stars and still not see the light…” —Already Gone, the Eagles

I finished reading Edward Abbey’s book Desert Solitaire last night, a personal history of Abbey’s summers as a seasonal park ranger in what was then Arches National Monument. Desert Solitaire is an American classic, one of the greatest nature narratives of all time and a book worth reading if only for Abbey’s luminous prose and vivid descriptions of the Four Corners region (“…crags and pinnacles of naked rock, the dark cores of ancient volcanoes, a vast and silent emptiness smoldering with heat, color, and indecipherable significance, above which floated a small number of pure, clear, hard-edged clouds.”)

But Abbey, for all his artistry, was a cynical, God–averse contrarian who could see nothing beyond appearance. How sad, I thought, as I closed the covers of the book. Abbey lived his entire life in praise of beauty and missed the point of it all.

Old Testament words came to mind: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth...and God said, ‘Isn't that beautiful?'"[1]

Most ancient people had cosmologies, theories of origins enshrined in legend, myth and song. But Israel's cosmology was unique. It tells a story like no other: God created beauty for our childlike delight.

Love thought up the cosmos, spoke it into being and pronounced it "beautiful."  Beautiful to what end? For whom? For us for whom it was made. Then, having created a paradise, Love spoke us into being, placed us in Eden[2] and said, “Enjoy!"

Thomas  Traherne wrote,

From dust I rise,
And out of nothing now awake;
These brighter regions which salute mine eyes,
A gift from God I take.
The earth, the seas, the light, the day, the skies,
The sun and stars are mine if those I prize.

Long time before
I in my mother's womb was born,
A God, preparing, did this glorious store,
The world, for me adorn.
Into this Eden so divine and fair,
So wide and bright, I come His son and heir.

Some, though they see beauty all around them, "do not...give thanks to [God], but become futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts are darkened” (Romans 1:21).

Others see beauty, say "Thank you, Lord” and take one small step toward redemption. Israel’s poet put it this way: The one who is thankful honors God, and makes a way by which He [God] may show him His salvation (cf., Psalm 50:22).

David Roper

[1] Literally, “He saw that it was good.” The Hebrew word "good" can signify esthetic good as well as ethical good. Sarah, for example, was said to be a "good" woman, referring to her beauty.
[2] The garden was "in" Eden, a word that means "delightful." Eden may be the ancient name for the primordial earth and descriptive of its stunning beauty.

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