God the Artist
Debbie and I were on our boat late one afternoon, heading back to the marina. The skies had been a marvel all day. Cirrus clouds, Mares’ Tails, had been sweeping across a sky of cerulean blue since early that morning. But as we turned west heading into the Intracoastal Waterway north of Cumberland Island, just south of Jekyll, the sun had sunk low enough that its light began to shift from the clear blue sky and dazzling white Mares’ Tails to deeper, warmer tones. The shadows lengthened as the light slanted across the marsh.
Weather was coming up from the southwest, and tall heavy thunderclouds had begun to form on the horizon. Creamy yellows and oranges and reds were projected against the curtain of clouds like some technicolor extravaganza. Then, suddenly, the scene shifted from merely stunning beauty to something ethereal, something transcendent, as lavenders, apricots, golds, shimmering greens and violet purples erupted in the western sky while the sun played its game of hide-and-seek among towering clouds. Spectra appeared and disappeared and colors danced above a low rim of tidal marsh and the ultramarine blue and black of the channel from the sea.
I turned to Debbie and said, “Now God’s just showing off.”
It was as though God had decided to lay his brushes aside, pitched onto the floor the palette he’d been using all day, and with fingers and palette knives and anything he could get his hands on, God just went nuts with impossible, unearthly colors and forms on this canvas we call the evening sky.
Leonard Cohen’s song, “I Came So Far for Beauty,” comes to mind in the presence of such a scene, this “masterpiece” God “left unsigned.” Selflessly, God makes what God makes, hangs it in the cosmic gallery, and, much of the time, human beings never see what God has wrought. God doesn’t seem to care if no one enters the gallery. He just keeps creating beauty.
In the marsh, I am sure, there are beings that see and appreciate God’s artistry more fully than any man or woman. Heron, cranes and egrets, great and small, storks and ducks, even marsh rats play within the masterpiece and lend it their accolades. But there are events of stunning beauty billions of light years away that, quite possibly, no being of any sort ever sees or applauds.
Why does God create such scenes if there’s no creaturely audience?
Because, I believe, it is in the nature of God to go as far as necessary for beauty. God is the eternal artist. It is the necessity of God’s pure freedom that creates and recreates the artistry of all that is. And God loves the beauty God creates.
It was, perhaps, William James who taught me to see what it means to imagine God beyond the personal, to imagine the supra-personal creative, animating, inspiring life-force within all being. James yanked me out of the corseted Victorian parlor where I had been stuck on God, the Holy Family at afternoon tea. James turned my gaze outward toward the universe, toward the grand multi-verse of all that exists by the power and love of that which indwells and holds everything in existence yet is beyond all we can know. But it was Thich Nhat Hanh who helped me learn to be still in the presence of this life-force, to look up and in and to marvel, to stand or to kneel in awe, to inhale the exuberant breath of being, calmly to abide in the living divine artistry that defies the skill of every human artist, but which also inspires us to participate if we dare in the Beauty of the Lord.
Turning our boat northward as the light to the west faded into a brilliant tea-stain, a flock of pelicans skimmed the water in a ballet that makes elegant these ridiculous birds. And as we made our way into the streams that carried us homeward, mullets leapt from the surface of the water. They say the mullets are fooled into jumping by the evening lights upon the water. But I think they are celebrating God’s new exhibition.