Within the age…

we cannot transcend all the errors that characterize our time.

A Thriving Beauty

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One year ago, on October 15, 2015 Christopher Leavell passed away after a short battle with cancer. Chris was my pastor for a short period of time during 2013 while my family lived in the Phoenix area. We were directed to Chris’ church after my wife’s graduation from college, and we began attending after just a couple short weeks. We went out with his family for an after church meal, and found almost instantly that we were in agreement about a great many things.

When it came to the preaching of the word, Chris was concerned that it be unadorned by his own ingenuity, and that the original meaning must be clear to his hearers. He was one of the meekest men I have known personally: willing to be imposed on if he believed it would be better for everyone else involved, and only disagreeing when he felt it was a necessity.

I didn’t know Chris for a long time, in fact we only spent around eight months slowly getting to know his family before I had to uproot my own for work. While I didn’t know Chris for an extended period, there are many things about him that were impressed upon me. First and foremost was his love for the natural world.

Chris and I were in agreement on a great number of things, but he argued that one area that was almost wholly ignored was the importance of the created world in the realm of the Church and Christian Conservatism. I asked him at one point to outline his thoughts on the subject as I had never met anyone so particularly passionate about the natural world. We had some brief conversations about it, and its with regret that I say I don’t believe I ever fully apprehended his position.

In 2014, Chris published a blog post entitled: The Grand Canyon is not Beautiful. Chris was a photographer, and he worked at developing a talent for it. The aforementioned blog post is lacking his photos of the Canyon, but you can view them here.

He said in his post that he went to the Canyon, hoping to capture it’s beauty, but found himself frustrated:

“…the same frustration that comes from trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. These added elements of weather and light are truly beautiful but the Canyon itself is not. When looking at the Canyon I do not see the work the Divine hand of creation. I do not find beauty, but the scene of unprecedented cataclysmic destruction. I find the remnants of floodwaters of desolation now baking in the sun soaked cliffs all majestic in its magnitude. Like true beauty, it brings me to stillness and wonder but it lacks the goodness of the Creator that must undergird true beauty.”

At first I disagreed with him, I felt that the canyon itself could not be broken down into all its individual parts. The elements of weather, the light, the rushing water… these must be taken as one in total. However, I’ve come to see the Canyon differently.

The land, like our own nature, is suffering with the effects and scars of sin. The Canyon is a testament to the consuming effect of evil on the totality of creation: even the Earth itself groans under the weight mankind has unjustly placed upon it.

Our fallen nature is not a beautiful thing, but the beauty of the image of God still dwells within us, and in spite of us. Beauty remains, despite our fallen nature, but only because God has not allowed his image to be wholly destroyed. In Christ, the image will one day be restored in full.

This is what Chris helped me see in the natural world: Yes, the Grand Canyon is not beautiful. However, I would like to offer an addendum: While the Grand Canyon is not beautiful, beauty cannot be restrained by the stark reality of the desolation. In the Canyon, the greatest illustration of sins damaging effects, the light plays upon the ground in such a way to take our breath away. It is not just because of the desolation and magnitude of the canyon, although it is a part of it. We gather in the early morning air, crowded together, and take pictures because beauty does not just exist at the Grand Canyon, it thrives there. In spite of the desolation, the promise of restored beauty remains.

I wish I could continue the conversation with Chris, but for now, I remain thankful for a man who helped open my eyes to the value of the natural world, and what it teaches us about a God who shared with us his nature through his very creation.

 

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Written by Agrammatos

October 15, 2016 at 12:16 AM

Posted in General

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