my problem with goodness and beauty | pt 1

Autumn came out of nowhere this year in South Bend.  Sometimes it creeps in and you barely notice the transition.  Not this time.  Deep, dark skies swept quickly over northern Indiana, and blazing hot days turned crisp fast.  It seems like it was only a couple of days ago when nighttime meant some relief from the heat.  Now the nights are biting cold. 

I’ve always loved this season the most, but I used to find myself more connected to it.  When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time at a church camp not too far from our home.  I’d go there in the summer as a camper, but our family would be there in the fall a lot, too.  My dad would take my brother and me up for work day.  We’d help the men split logs so that the wood-burning furnace in the old farmhouse where the director lived would be well stocked through the winter.  I can remember drinking in the fall on those days.  It was as if I had this huge net in my heart that was able to capture so much of the beauty and the wildness of that season so that not much of it floated past me without having to first go through me, leaving my heart full as it moved on.

Honestly, I feel like that net has shrunk as I’ve grown older.  I just turned 28, and I’m pretty sure I was better at receiving goodness when I was 18.  Even better when I was 8.  If I try to step outside of myself for a second, it’s clear that I experience as many good and beautiful things now as I ever have in life.  It’s just that they don’t sink in as deep any more.  This is a problem. 

Christians talk a lot about the problems of evil and sin, but I also think goodness and beauty present problems of their own.  How can we live in a world that God called “good” and not be arrested – stopped in our tracks – by its goodness?  What happens to us when we think we’re deprived because our hearts are unable to take in the beauty that surrounds us?  I want to make my net huge again so that all of this goodness and beauty isn’t wasted on me.

I don’t know a lot about biology or chemistry – ok, really, I’m screwed in any endeavor that involves too much math, because math is boring – but I’m pretty sure our bodies can’t do anything with calcium unless they have vitamin D, too.  You can consume 100 times the amount of calcium you need each day, but without vitamin D in the mix, your bones will become brittle.  This is how our hearts are with blessings, too.   

I’m at the start of a vacation right now.  I’m going to spend some time outdoors.  I’m going to see some great live music.  I’m going to feast with friends.  I’m going to read a good book or two (books that have absolutely no technical theological language or church strategy in them).  And I’m going to watch some TV.  But I’m pretty sure all of that amounts to so much calcium without any vitamin D.  So, while I’m doing all of that, I’m going to stop as often as possible and say to myself, “it is good.”  I think that’s a start.  It’s a tiny little discipline.  However, when I speak those three little words, they find resonance in the booming voice of God.  My heart shakes a little bit, which means it wakes up to the goodness that might otherwise pass it by.

A new season seems like a good time for a little bit of course correction.  (Have you ever noticed that people from the Midwest are all in all better people – or at least more interesting – than the people you meet from other parts of the country where they suffer from a lack of changing seasons?  This is why.)  I have another thought or two about all of this I’ll share later this week.  But for now, I’m going to make saying “it is good” an incessant part of my day.