God-Defined Beauty

This summer I spent a week in June in my home state. Following is a reflection while I was there:

I am in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

It is in Montana at a family reunion. The location of the site is called “Paradise Valley” and it certainly earns this name.

In any direction I look, it is a postcard — almost unreal in its splendor. The valley is high in the Rockies with a sky that is a sparkling blue and pine trees covering the peaks that encircle it. A mountain creek runs alongside the camp, bubbling over the rocks and racing down the mountain.

I recall warnings given me as a child to be cautious around the stream. This was accompanied by the visual of a log thrown in to demonstrate the strength of the current.

Every summer in my growing up years, I attended camp here. It was a splendid place to learn of God and to feed the connection with God through the revelation of creation.

For the past twenty-five years, my extended family has returned every other year for this wonderful event.

Our children and now their children love this place and relish the opportunity to spend the week with each other. There have been mishaps through the years — broken fingers, burned hands, accidental spraying of pepper spray in the face of some (it was meant for the bears), and other minor events.

This year there have been mountain lions prowling in the camp. They left their scat around the lodge and the director said he had heard their screams outside the cabins at night. We are encouraged to be vigilant with the little ones and walk with others if we go out at night. One of my brothers-in-law told us to bark if we encounter one. They are typically hunted by dogs, so are conditioned to flee if they hear a bark. I’m not sure if this is actually true. We may hear next time that it was a disguised snipe hunt.

But, this danger does not detract from the way God fills my soul through the creativity that is manifest. It takes my breath away!

It is easy to sense God’s presence here.

For me, it is a thin place; i.e., a place on earth in which the veil between earth and heaven is thin. I rely on this and other places of beauty to fill my soul. I have known that about myself since I was a child. I have a memory of lying on my back in a meadow at the age of seven or eight, staring up at the splendid sky with the pines encircling it. I was overwhelmed with love for God and the realization that God loves me. Creation is part of my soul sustenance.

How could I not know the creator in this setting? And through the years my definition of beauty expanded. It is easy to see God in the mountains of Montana, but not all the places I have lived are this picturesque. But in God’s faithfulness, God gradually opens my eyes to the beauty — sometimes it is subtle, but it is always present. God is not only a creator of beauty but also of variety. One need only have eyes to see the beauty outside the norm.

Thus it is with the people who are fashioned by God. We know the cultural norms for beauty and give honor and special treatment to those who fit the correct criteria.

There are statistics that show that beautiful people walk an easier path than those who are deemed ugly by our culture. Jokes are made at the expense of “less attractive” people and media repeatedly show the salvation of a person through a transformation from ugliness into beauty. There is a billion-dollar industry that addresses the desire we have to be beautiful. How sad it is to refer to people as ugly or treat them as “less than” based on physical characteristics.

Yet God has a different lens and invites us through see through that lens. We are valuable because God loves us. God loves each individual without condition, and through God’s eyes, each of us is beautiful.

As we live into the way of Christ, we open to the variety of beauty that surrounds us. How easy it is for me to give others the gift of value and significance when they are not often given that message. I can move outside the norm. It costs me nothing and allows me the opportunity to accept God’s invitation to love all people.

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