Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Reflections on a Warm Summer Night

I know it's been four years since I've posted anything on this, but I thought, "hey, why not post somethin' now?"  So's I did...

A picture taken on my smartphone, totally insufficient to portray the experience detailed below.
The Experience

Today I was affronted with the beauty that surrounded my neighborhood. Late at night, I was checking some emails and working on theological studies when my dog came to me, begging to go for a walk. Normally, she just sits by the door waiting for somebody to notice, but this night she went right up to me and jumped up to get my attention. So, grudgingly, I decided to take her for a quick walk. I went down the street, and approached a house whose yard is in flagrant disregard of the standards set by the local Homeowners' Association. Calamity Jane (my dog) stopped to do her business, so I briefly stood and took in the view before me.

As I looked, everything became extremely vivid. Every little detail. This yard, which most people would view as unkempt and a blight, was overgrown with weeds. But I began to see those weeds and their immediate interaction in extreme detail. I saw how the “weeds” were really just the native plants to this area of Colorado, and while they maintained no symmetry or “cleanness” with which we judge beauty, they were extremely beautiful. They grew in natural formations and structures, which while completely functional from a biological point of view, highlighted the amazing determination of life. Shrubs, weeds, flowers, and grasses flowed up around the house they enveloped. The moon shown through clouds with a small, pulsing star to the left. The light and shadow played around their growth. Periodic porch and street lights pierced through the darkness of the night. The car to the right and the house behind were relatively new and clean, and provided a perfect juxtaposition to the chaos of plant life in the foreground.

The Contemplation

Then, as I took in this view, and my dog pooped, I began to contemplate all the processes required to make such a scene. This is where the real revelation took place. I realized, that in order to create a scene so easily overlooked, many processes were working in perfect harmony. I thought of the O2-CO2 and Nitrogen cycles working ever-silently to maintain both the plant growth I observed, and the life of the observer viewing it. I thought of the perfect harmony between gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak forces of physics that even allowed such a universe to exist. Each of the billions of cells, in each plant, that I beheld worked to create such a scene of beauty. The forces acting on those cells allowed them to exist. The moon in its current phase, the atmospheric conditions allowing its view and the distinctive sparkle of the star next to it, provided unique plays of light and shadow on the objects beheld. Then, of course, I thought of the work, design, and craftsmanship that went into the human elements in front of me. The car, house, sidewalk, and street all provided a backdrop to the natural phenomena surrounding them. I heard my breath and smelled the sweet smells of plants, normally so choked by the exhaust of passing cars during the day. Crickets and other bugs hummed close-by, as if in a totally uncoordinated, but deeply complex, symphony meant to catch my wayward ears.

The overwhelming awe that this experience was instilling in me was almost too much to take. Like a giant girl, I wanted to cry. It sounds pretty stupid as I type this, and the grainy photo I took with my smart phone only confirms the idiocy of my appreciation. But in that simple, solid moment, I didn't care that my feelings were crazy and incommunicable. I really felt that all my travels, challenges, and mind-numbing difficulties over the years were worth the moment in which I was immersed. And if you know me, and how far I've traveled, then you know that's saying something.

In the midst of this experience, I realized two things. First was the total improbability of the whole thing. If the previously mentioned chemical-biological cycles (CO2, O2, Nitrogen) were not in place, even as inefficient as they are, then there would be no life to observe, and no life to be observed. Additionally, if any of the four primary forces of physics were not in place, then there would be no observable universe, let alone the intricate beauty which I took in. And if human beings had not endeavored to create the city in which I found myself, there would be no artificial backdrop to accentuate the natural scenery.  Finally, without the brain in my head, with its complexities and the construct of my mind, I would be as dumb to the beauty before me as the dog pooping at my side.
Admittedly, for a man of faith, most of these processes are well detailed in the annals of science. But is that such a bad thing? Sure any of these processes can be explained through logical and causal means. But to have them all work concurrently seems a little more than mere chance. If any one of them were missing, then this whole internal discussion of mine would not have taken place. The entire house-of-cards which is my reality would completely collapse if not for the balancing act each component performed. In fact, it may almost seem like “destiny.” And as much as one might not like to admit it, the concept of destiny relies on a plan. Who's plan? Certainly not my own. I only planned to take my dog outside so she could poop. Something greater seemed to be at work; something far more complex, and with an eye to the subjective concept we call “beauty.” Something an observer might call “God” for lack of a better term.

And that is the second realization. In order for this beautiful scene to be beheld (and I keep using the term “beauty” at the risk of over-use, because I simply don't have the expressive range to fully portray the significance of what I experienced), this God would not only need to put in place the processes I previously mentioned, in addition to many, many more which went unobserved (and many philosophical-theological arguments get way too bogged down in the individual processes that make up the machinery of existence); but this God would have to create me to behold it. I am not saying that God was forced to create me, in order to create beauty. But God created me so that He would not have to be alone in the appreciation of the Creation that He made. Think about it. Just in the state of Colorado alone, there are magnificent mountain peaks with no one on them to take in the awe with which they've been imbued. In the middle of nowhere, there are outcrops of windswept rock and snow, far above the clouds, and there is no human being upon them to see the sheer, stark, and maybe desolate landscape at their feet.

But these places exist, whether we view them or not. I guess that means that if a tree falls in the forest, and there is no-one around, it does indeed make a sound. But the sound which is missed by ears that could behold it, is a wonderful treasure lost. That lonely and sad thought brings me back to God. All of the complex realities of being, whether we pass them by or not, only take on meaning (concepts of beauty, wonder, and awe) if there is an observer. As these things truly have meaning (they are beautiful, wonderful, or awful), then that must mean there is an observer. Finally, if these things are observed when no human being is around, then something sentient must observe them to ascribe them meaning. That Sentient Observer, who is also their Creator, is then the One whom I proclaim as God.

The Point of This Post

I promise that I did not set about writing this little piece with an apologetic mindset. I would have rather gone to sleep tonight after my work was done. I simply experienced something I thought was worth noting, and wrote it down (and its derivative contemplations) because I wanted to remember it. There have been a few other points in my life where I ran into similar thoughts and feelings, and passed them by. I guess I figured that if they were worth noting, someone would have noted them by now. Maybe someone has, and I'm just not aware of them. But in the last few years I have done things and been to places that put my life at risk. Understanding that, I began to better appreciate the experience of life in which I participated, even if I didn't fully understand it.

Maybe the overall context of my risk-taking life has propelled me to this moment, to write these things down, before my thoughts and feelings are lost in death, and I am no more able to communicate them. After all, we all die sometime; and how many lessons could we have learned from those who once were, but are only dust beneath our feet today? If my insights are of any worth, they will survive. If people decide that this is just a bunch of crap, then they won't. And if my experience is worthless, then it really shouldn't survive to slow down human progress. But if it is worthwhile, then it would be a crime for me not to write it down and pass it on.

I guess my hope for sharing these thoughts with you is that they get you thinking. There are many who argue both from the perspective of faith and the perspective of atheism, who do not see the whole picture. I don't claim to see the whole picture myself, but I've always had a mind for the “macro” over the “micro,” and I hope that my observations and insights help to inform the discussion. In any case, I believe the above experience has deepened my faith in God, even if that experience is pretty mundane by most standards. In the same way, I hope that this will cause any readers to look a little more deeply at their surroundings. In that depth, I pray they find the truth about human existence, nature, and the existence of God. After all, wasn't there One among us who once said that if we know the truth, the truth will set us free? Freedom is something the human heart yearns for, and if that yearning is not in vain, then freedom is most assuredly found in the truth.

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