For the Beauty of the Earth

For the Beauty of the Earth
Azusa Pacific University Choir

Sitting on my patio while I write this, I enjoy a direct view of Black Mountain to the south. Around me are the sounds and sights of spring. Dozens of birds – sparrows, cactus wrens, cardinals and quail – feast on the food Donna puts out every day. Their enjoyment of this free meal nearly matches my joy in watching them feast.

While I enjoy this scene, I’m startled by a mule deer (I assume that’s what it was) darting across the wash. One Christmas morning I saw three, but I've seen very few since. No sooner had I spied him than he vanished behind the dense desert shrubs.

Some time ago I sighted a Gila monster on the dirt road near our home. That’s right: a reclusive Gila monster, replete with orange and black markings, waddled carelessly across the road. I stopped to watch – and protect – it on its dangerous trek.

Returning to the present, I try in vain to catch sight of the vanished deer. Native mesquite trees line the wash. Paloverde trees, less common, display brilliant yellow flowers. Jojoba, the medicinal plant valued by Native Americans, grows in abundance along the hillside. So, too, are the equally prized creosote bushes, whose pleasing odor following the summer monsoon brings fond memories of my childhood in arid Lake Havasu City.

As beautiful as all these are, they pale in comparison to the saguaros, which thrive in our neighborhood. When we first moved here, I counted more than twenty in the yard. Some of them are already beginning to bloom. I love to see their magnificent white flowers. They bloom for a single day day before wilting in the desert sun, only to reappear later as brilliant red fruit.

At first I wrote “my yard" in the preceding paragraph. Why do we assume we own these living things? These magnificent cacti were here long before I arrived; they will be here long after I’m gone. I didn’t plant them. I don’t water them. I merely enjoy them. But because they live within property for which I paid money, I assume I own them. Why is that?

Whose universe is it, anyway? Why is it here? And why is it so beautiful? A rational universe doesn’t surprise me; science can reasonably explain that. But why is it so breathtakingly beautiful?

The other day while walking through the desert I chanced upon a remote hedgehog cactus. Largely unnoticed, these petite cacti dot our desert landscape. This particular cactus sported a variety of magnificent purple flowers.

I paused in awe at the uncanny symmetry of its brilliant bloom, and contemplated the contrast of prickly needles against soft petals. I am likely the only human to appreciate this flower before it passes the way of all living things.

What am I to make of all this? Is the beauty of our desert merely a utilitarian happenstance, as some would have us believe? Is nature itself divine, bearing within it an eternal spark, as others contend? Are humans mere accidents of nature, floating in the cosmos, inventing meaning and beauty because we want to believe life matters when in fact it does not?

Speaking for myself, none of these explanations can account for the overwhelming beauty of nature, and its profound effect on all who marvel at it. Believe what you want, but as for me, I’ll cast my lot with a Creator who appreciates beauty even more than I do.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
   and the sky above proclaims his handiwork 
        (Psalm 19:1)