We’ve all heard the expression: “All things Bright and Beautiful”. Let’s take a look at some of the most beautiful things in the world. A study most appropriate near the Christmas season, but certainly valid any time of year.
If you’ve ever watched some of the late night TV shows you have watched them present various lists; the 10 most…whatever. The 10 things you should never say to your boss, such as (“If you don’t give me a raise, I’ll quit.”). The 10 things a man should never give his wife for Christmas (a vacuum cleaner, an electric drill, etc.). The 10 things one should never say to a traffic officer, like “I’m sorry, officer. I lost track of my speed because I was talking on the cellphone”. The ten best dressed women in the world. The 10 worst dressed men in the world. And so forth.
But what if we made a list?
Here then, is this author’s list of the 10 most beautiful things in the world. Of course, you the reader might think of a different list, with other entries and in a different order. You could say that ‘love’ is the most beautiful thing, or ‘loyalty’, perhaps. Or possibly some fine piece of music, like ‘Handel’s Messiah’, or ‘Beethoven’s Ninth’. Anyway, here is my list, things that can be – or have been – actually seen with the human eye. Starting with #10 and working down to the most beautiful thing of all, #1.
Beautiful thing Number 10: Sunsets and Sunrises.
Who hasn’t seen a spectacular sunset or sunrise – one that takes your breath away? Who hasn’t seen the sky explode in bursts of magenta, orange, red, and yellow, with clouds taking on fantastic shapes, the whole scene constantly changing? I remember one particular sunset while riding in the Amtrak “Empire Builder” train across Minnesota. The sky was a deep red, the sun a big ball of crimson fire, and everyone in the dining car couldn’t keep their eyes off of it. The colors and the patterns in the sky were overpoweringly compelling. There were plenty of Oooohs’ and Aaaahs’. I remember other gorgeous sunsets and sunrises in the Nevada and Arizona deserts, and others in my home town in northern California. Awesome beauty.
Beautiful thing Number 9: Baby animals.
Who hasn’t seen pictures of puppies and kittens and was compelled to say ‘How beautiful they are’? Those of us who have held a little puppy or kitty in our hands and looked them directly in the face could not help being warmed by their innocence and natural comeliness. Beauty up close, with a squirming little body and eyes and faces that could melt the hardest of hearts. Other animals too, especially baby bears and even baby elephants. And how precious is a little calf or colt, as it tries to take its first wobbly steps.
Beautiful thing Number 8: Winter scenes.
Those of us who have lived in the northern states can relate to this. That first snowfall on a quiet night, covering the landscape in a coat of pure white. That snow covered country lane in the light of a full moon, with fences and trees and a lighted cottage with smoke coming from a chimney. Like a Kincade painting, but real. And then there’s the world after an ice storm, when all the houses, trees, power lines and everything else outside is covered in sheets of glass-like ice, that sparkle in the light of a full moon or morning sunlight. Of course we all know that the beauty of an ice storm can be a deceitful beauty, as they often cause dangerous road conditions, broken branches and wires, etc. – but not without some isolated moments of spectacular beauty.
Beautiful thing Number 7: Mountain grandeur.
If you have ever stood in the Yosemite Valley or in Zion National Park or in a grove of giant Sequoias you couldn’t help but be awed by the grandness and cathedral beauty of these places. Certain spots in the Rockies (Grand Tetons, for example) or the Swiss Alps, or the mountains of New Zealand all have that look of timelessness that leaves you feeling small – but yet privileged. Once in late spring my wife and I visited Glacier National Park in northern Montana. I stood on the shore of Saint Mary’s Lake and just feasted my eyes on the snow-covered mountain range before me. I just did not want to leave. I was looking at eternity. It was a mind-bending truly beautiful experience.
Beautiful thing Number 6: Certain works of art.
All of us have seen paintings, sculptures, or heard pieces of music that forced us to say: “A true masterpiece – truly moving.” Examples: Handel’s Messiah. The Moonlight Sonata. The old Christmas classics like “Oh, Holy Night”. Paintings by Renoir or Da Vinci or nature photography by folk like Ansel Adams. Once in a museum in Virginia I found myself standing mesmerized before a sculpture called “The Veiled Lady”. It was beyond my comprehension how a sculptor could take a piece of marble, and carve a woman’s face, covered by a veil, in such a way that you could ‘see through’ the veil and observe the woman’s face behind it. It was a stunning thing to behold. I stared for at least twenty minutes, until my brother finally found me. Then he stared for another twenty minutes, sharing my sense of wonderment. Also, some of you may remember in 1976, during the BI-centennial, seeing on TV the parade of tall ships as they entered in full sail into New York Harbor, passing the statue of Liberty. What a magnificent and inspiring sight.
Beautiful thing Number 5: A newborn baby.
This is mostly for all the mothers. Was there ever a more beautiful thing to behold than when the nurse or doctor brought your first baby to you and you held it for the first time? What could take the place of that moment? When you held it and felt the life in its little body, saw its little face, watched it move its hands and arms, heard it cry – and you realized that this child had come from you, flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone. And eventually the father, the brothers and sisters, the friends, even the doctors and nurses shared your sense of wonder and awe. And everyone wanted to hold it. Even the somewhat confused father, who didn’t quite know where and how to hold his hands, or what to do next, even he wanted to hold it. Such was the compelling beauty of this new little life. Jesus himself picked up children and blessed them. “The kingdom of God is made up of such as these,” he said.
(3 of the remaining 4 beautiful scenes are from the Bible.)
Beautiful thing Number 4: Christmas eve – when the angels appeared to shepherds in the field.
8And there were in the country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.
9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were very afraid.
10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16And they went to Bethlehem with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
We simply cannot imagine what is truly meant by the phrase “the glory of the Lord”. It must have been light and color and sound and motion that even I-MAX could barely approach. Those who saw it must have stood frozen in place, with more than a little awe and even a little fright. That scene in the field must have been one of indescribable beauty, with angelic heavenly light bathing the countryside, with the voices of countless angels either singing or speaking in unison. No doubt the shepherd’s lives were changed forever as this scene made such an indelible impression that they carried it with them all their days.
Beautiful thing Number 3: The transfiguration, an event in the life of Jesus
Jesus took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as the noonday sun. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure from this world, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw the Lord’s glory and the two men standing with him. Then, a cloud appeared and enveloped them. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had finished speaking, Jesus was alone.
Jesus’ raiment had become bright as a flash of lightning (the word used in the King James Bible is ‘glistering’, an archaic German word, meaning to glitter brightly. Not a word we use too often today.) Peter, John and James must have been left truly overpowered by what they had just witnessed, a dazzling display of light, color, and sound. Like the shepherds, they had seen perhaps just a taste of the aforementioned ‘glory of the Lord’, as Jesus lifted the veil for just a few moments and showed them who he truly was. When Jesus returns “in power and great glory”, when “every eye shall see him”, then this mind-boggling event will certainly take its place on any list of beautiful things. Perhaps that day is soon approaching. But whenever, all of us who are true believers will see it when it happens.
Beautiful thing Number 2: Earth-rise
In December of 1968 the NASA astronauts made a voyage to the moon, to circumnavigate it. This was in preparation for the next voyage when they would actually land on its surface. They were practicing their orbiting maneuvers, their trajectories, their ship control systems, and their communications with Houston, etc. They had to get all that right before attempting an actual lunar landing. On their way from the Earth to the moon they did not pay much attention to the Earth itself. They knew it was back there behind them, but they were focused on the task at hand. After some number of days they reached the moon and began their first trajectory around it. It was the first time human eyes had ever beheld the backside of the moon. Robot craft had already photographed the backside, but this was the first time that humans had actually seen it. But what the astronauts did not anticipate was what was waiting for them when they completed their circuit around the moon. As they came closer and closer to the end of their first transit, they began to see the Earth ‘rising’, so to speak, in front of them. They were stunned. So they temporarily deviated from their flight protocol to take photographs of what was to them an absolutely awesome sight. There was our Earth, our home world, on display in front of them. A shining blue and white ornament suspended in the velvety blackness of space. The profoundness of the moment was not lost on them. The late nature photographer Galen Rowel (whose museum is in Bishop, California) said that these photographs were “the most important environmental pictures ever taken”.
Quotes from two astronauts: “The sheer beauty of it just brought tears to my eyes.” And, “If people could see Earth from up here, see it without those borders, see it without any differences in race or religion, they would have a completely different perspective. Because when you see it from that angle, you cannot think of your home or your country. All you can see is one Earth….”
This vista gave the human race a perspective on their world they never had before. Visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmaOcPYCGMA. This is the Youtube video of both ‘Earthrise’ and ‘Earthset’. Out there, 240,000 miles away, was ‘spaceship Earth’, where the human race has lived since the creation, the pretty little blue ball in the vastness of the cosmos that we have always called our home. The place where all of our ancestors have been born, have lived and died. The place we have fought over and contended over, wars, wars, and more wars. The fragile place we just might ruin if we are not careful. The place that God has given us stewardship over.
Here is a passage from a recent science-fiction novel where the main character Professor Carl Kent gets a look at his home world from about 100,000 miles out. He has agreed to accompany an alien woman to her home-planet, nearly 2000 light-years away. But before they begin their the inter-dimensional journey, she allows him to get one last look at Earth.
(used by the author’s permission)
[ The alien woman directed her pilots to park her ship in a circular orbit about one hundred thousand miles above the surface of the Earth, the sun behind them. Professor Kent immediately began to stare out the viewport. He gasped once. He gasped twice. Just as he had seen in all the famous photographs, in the magazines and journals he had read, and just like the giant photograph that hung in his study, the round orb of planet Earth floated in the black background starfield like a huge jewel. Its blue oceans, white clouds, and copper-colored landmasses formed a vista so grand that Kent could hardly breathe. His eyes began to water. He swallowed hard as his throat began to ache. He shook his head back and forth a few times and gawked long at the glorious sight. Then he spoke slowly in a humbled quiet voice. “I…, I always imagined it would be incredible, but…this is more than I expected. My goodness, look at that white polar cap, those swirling storm clouds on the Atlantic – a hurricane, I think. And there is South America. And Africa. And there is…. It is so incredibly beautiful. I hardly know what to say.”
Kent’s eyes welled up with tears. “All my knowledge and education did not prepare me for a moment such as this. Wow!…I never thought that I….” He stopped once again, fixed his top teeth against his lower lip, and just shook his head. “To think, most people have no concept of the beauty of the world they live on.” He exhaled loudly in one long burst. “They just ignorantly go about raping and polluting it. Billions of us, crawling around on it, like lice, preying on each other, squabbling over this, fighting over that. Imagine. All our heroic voyages. All our silly wars and crusades and revolutions. All our flags and banners and trumpets and drums. All our tanks and warships and killing machines. All our cavalry charges, all our pathetic parades. And, my God, all our terrorism and ethnic cleansings and self-righteous hubris. It all happened down there! On that silver ball.”
A tear began to flow down his cheek. He clenched his fists in anger, as he raised his voice. “Every last human being should be dragged by the scruff of the neck and brought out here! To be forced to see their gloriously beautiful world like this, made to stare at it, made to meditate on it, get this image burned into their brains! They should be made to see it so fragile, see it…so ‘destructible’.” Then Kent’s voice became subdued as he added, in a quivering whisper. “Our little blue-and-white breakable…lonely…lovely………home. We absolutely don’t deserve it.”
The alien woman moved next to Kent and gripped his shoulders. A minute or so passed in silence as they both took in the sight before them. Finally, she spoke softly, breaking the mood. “It is time we proceed, Professor, on our journey – time to go to my world.”
“Is your world as beautiful as mine?” asked Kent.
“Yes, it most certainly is.” ]
Don’t you wish you could travel to outer space, where you could behold our planet like Professor Kent did in the story? Would you have the same emotional reaction? I have no doubt that your answer would be YES. Then the question immediately follows: where did our pretty world come from? Answer: Isaiah 42:5 says: God the LORD, it is he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein:
Finally, what then is Beautiful Thing number 1?
Here is where all of us must use our imaginations a little bit. Two thousand years ago, in a stable, in the presence of animals, friends, relatives, and shepherds, a baby was born during the night. The mother was a teenage virgin named Mary, who was giving birth to a baby boy who had been conceived in her by the Spirit of God. Nearby was a fine and decent man named Joseph, who was told by God himself not to abandon Mary and not to ‘set her aside’, because she was having a child ‘out of wedlock’.
Suppose you had been there with a camera, and your intention was to take just the right picture of this event. You would hope for a ‘golden moment’, when Mary was holding the baby, who she had named Jesus, in such a way as to show off his face and his little arms. Joseph would be nearby, doting over the child and his mother. At just the right moment, when their postures were perfect, and the light was just right, all three individuals looked in your direction. Flash! You take the picture. Perhaps you caught a few sheep, or a goat or two, or even a donkey or an ox, in the picture’s background. Certainly a manger with some straw formed an added element. When this picture was developed, you were stunned by its beauty, by the illuminated expressions on the faces, and the profoundness of the moment.
Here was the purest and truest nativity scene imaginable. Here was the Son of God become flesh, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Light and our Gateway to God – being cared for by his mother and those attending her. Truly the most beautiful scene that any human being ever beheld.
Across the centuries, people have tried to recapture this divine moment. Nativity scenes are recreated in many ways, sometimes using living people and living animals. Very often this scene is recreated by sculptures of wood, stone, iron, and even wax. We see this scene in paintings, stained glass, assemblies of dolls and puppets, even in sea shells and Christmas tree ornaments. But some very blessed people, that night, saw the real nativity scene. Oh, that people had cameras back then. But the Lord in his wisdom did not allow it. When Jesus returns in “power and great glory”, will there be a new number one beautiful thing? Maybe not. This writer’s opinion is that the nativity will always be number one. Nothing will ever surpass the beauty of that night. The nativity of Jesus the Christ stands unchallenged as number one.
What then is the golden nugget in this discussion? What can we take away and hold on to? This awesome truth: Here was the actual Creator of Spaceship Earth, come to abide and dwell with us, and to eventually die and rise again for our redemption. Love beyond our understanding. He is the God of all sunsets, of puppy dogs and kitty cats, of summers and winters and beautiful snowfalls, of mountain grandeur. And in his honor we use the abilities he has given us to create works of beautiful art and music – and ships that sail on the wind, and ships that fly to the moon.