Sensations of Beauty

half dome

In my previous post, I tried to describe my favorite place in creation. Now I want to put words to what the effects were on me and why it matters.

My most overpowering experience of beauty was in Yosemite Valley when I was eleven years old. I couldn’t have put it into words then, but I remember it clearly. The concentration of glaciated granite and thunderous waterfalls was arresting. I was enveloped by a sense of self-forgetfulness. A physical joy preoccupied me. My insecurities, which I had just become aware of then, temporarily vanished.

 I’ve been back to Yosemite at least ten more times, and nearly always enjoy it.  Though I’ve spent a lot of money attempting to bottle the euphoria, I can’t quite get an encore of that first moment. I’ve been homesick ever since.

This year I was planning to go back and hike Half Dome with my kids. For a while, I believed the pandemic would not stop us. So, maybe next year.

tuolomne

I’ve been pondering about what goes on in an encounter with beauty. For me, being in Yosemite Valley was not an analysis—it was a sensory experience. It was not just a sight to see. I was feeling something physically.  Looking at the granite walls, the trees, and the waterfalls caused a bodily sensation, which I guess could be called awe. But it was more—I was looking at the light interact with the granite, trees, and water, which also combined into a soothing fragrance. I was listening to the wind and the river. I could feel the wind and the firmness of the granite under my feet. While looking at this vista, I was also taking its size and proportion, comparing it to other views. I was not using the measuring tools of science.

It was all so effortless and unselfconscious. Unlike responding to a cultural item like a song or piece of art, I was not wondering if it was cool to like it.

Even at such a young age, the Valley suggested to me something or someone beyond nature.  Someone powerful, yes. But more so someone who desires that I have pleasure.

While I firmly believe that the creation “declares the glory of God,” I don’t look at nature as mere evidence of design, but as a taste, a chance to participate in Eden’s remnants and look for its renewal. God created much more than an argument to satisfy my mind. Instead, he made a visual feast for my imagination—even for my body to digest.

All these years later, I go back in memory and draw from those experiences of beauty in Yosemite. When I do, the peace of self-forgetfulness washes over me.

Hope is kindled for the time of the renewal of all things when the new earth becomes a vast temple, a worldwide garden–God dwelling with us. Seeing his face. God, his people, and his creation flourishing in harmony. Shalom.

But this hope is not escapist. It strengthens my resolve to look for ways to participate in peacemaking now, with all its limitations and setbacks.

Encountering veiled glory in Yosemite suggests to me a glimpse of far greater beauty. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he prayed, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, will be with me where I am, to see my glory” (John 17:24).

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