Sacred Ugly Power Lines

Father,

It seems to me that it would be easier to perceive that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” if I didn’t encounter such constant suburban sprawl on a daily basis. When I see the visual beauty of nature, or of our Church buildings, or of Buddhist temples in foreign lands, or in primitive settings like I might see in a National Geographic magazine- then such a declaration in the Psalms makes sense; the world is perceptively symbolic. In such settings, it is as though Christ can be felt invisibly present, standing within the material world, making an offering before the Father.

But here I sit in a grey cubicle at work, in front of a computer monitor. And to get here, I drove past miles of suspended power lines, and some pretty run-down parts of town. Maybe, with some difficulty, I might be able to come to perceive that this part of “the earth [where I live] is the Lord’s”- but it sure feels like I just have to take such a statement on ‘blind faith’. The whole suburban way of life feels like a barrier- not only choking off awareness of God’s presence but a barrier to just simply being alive.

I am very seriously considering exiting the whole American scene- taking the family to live somewhere remote and quiet. If it were up to me, I might choose the middle of a jungle somewhere, I think, but my wife does have her limits. But what I am wondering is whether such a drastic move toward a primitive life is just escapism- maybe it would be more beneficial in the long run to keep grinding along here, hoping to one day come to perceive the true symbolic character of this modern world (which is presently hidden from me), a world that does seem to me to be mostly secular or profane.

Todd,

A few thoughts. What you are describing (and I understand the frequent ugliness of our landscape), is essentially an aesthetic judgment. Not an incorrect one. But to perceive that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof is not an aesthetic experience – it is “theoria” – contemplation – the perception of what is true. The faculty of judgment (rationality) gets in the way of such perception. It is done from the heart (nous).

I had such an experience recently. I was on my morning walk, and was praying as I walked along. I purposely opened myself up to perception, rather than judging. The streets of my neighborhood have a certain beauty, but the housing is not so good in many places, and people are not always that careful about things. But I did not see things that way. Even the wiring – which runs everywhere in the upper storey of the streets didn’t bother me. Instead, I began to think of the wiring as relationships – the connectedness of our shared existence. They were a community that is often not expressed in any other way. And I began to pray for the neighborhood, seen in this new way. It didn’t make the wiring prettier or pleasing. But just that slight “side-step” a small adjustment in my viewing, allowed me to see something I had missed.

Beauty – the beauty perceived in theoria – is present everywhere at all times. It is only occasionally present aesthetically. If we live in an aesthetic mode – we will find peace nowhere, for sin will manifest itself as ugliness and will find us out. For sin is present everywhere. Theoria is not only for the few, but, can be, on some level, a normative part of the Christian life. (From a private confession between Father Stephen Freeman and a layman.)