The Unfinished Symphony by David Levin

It is winter in Alaska, and for a weather geek like myself, it’s one of the most exciting times of the year.  It seems like there is always something interesting brewing out over the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean to our west.  For those of you that aren’t familiar with the geography and climate of Juneau, I will fill you in.

Juneau lies on the SE panhandle of Alaska and is along the west coast of continental North America.  It is bounded on the east by the Coast Range, a chain of mountains running north to south along the Alaskan Panhandle and western British Columbia.  To the west are several mountainous islands and various saltwater channels eventually leading out into the Gulf of Alaska.  Due to it’s proximity to the ocean and it’s location on the west slopes of the Coast Range, Juneau is usually in the cross hairs for many of the storms which develop in the North Pacific and track eastward.  These systems tend to track into the eastern Gulf of Alaska and then stall out and slowly die, having trouble passing over the higher mountain ranges to the east.  The result is long periods of clouds and precipitation.  In the winter, Juneau is also a battleground between cold air which tries to spill over and through mountain passes and channels from the Yukon, and relatively mild air from the west and south originating from the Pacific.  Snow can pile up quickly, but can also change to rain and wash away as fast as it came, leaving no trace of the winter wonderland behind, replacing it with piles of slush. [read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”]

It is also a place of great physical beauty.  Wonder is everywhere.  There are mountains, fjords, and glaciers.  On clear nights you can see the Auroras to the north.  There are so many stars.  It is not uncommon to sit on a beach, with snow capped mountains in the background watching whales spout in the distance, or colonies of sea lions frolicking by the shore. People travel from all over the world here in the summer just to be close to the beauty.  Even those of us that live here will do some pretty crazy things just to experience the grandeur and the majesty of this place.  It is really indescribable and even after living here for several months, I still have to remind myself that I am not on vacation.

It’s like all of nature is in a sort of dance.  It is happening all over the world.  I think it’s just more noticeable in places like SE Alaska.  Everything is moving in rhythm, teeming with life up here.  Maybe a better way to describe it is that it’s more like a song.  From the atmosphere to wildlife, even in the length of the days, everything has a beat, or a harmony if you will.  The atmosphere provides rain for the plants and animals.  The plants provide oxygen for the atmosphere.  The mountains and glaciers act to store water for the lowlands below.  If you think about it closely, everything is in orbit in some sense.

To expand things out, take even our solar system with the planets moving in step together around the sun.  Then we broaden our view and find that even our sun is moving in orbit as a part of our galaxy.  Taking an extremely wide angle look (and here is where I will stop because I am certainly not an astrophysicist and am not even going to pretend that I know how galaxies work) high powered telescopes have enabled us to see that there are countless galaxies even bigger than our own.  We could even take it down to the micro scale and look at something as simple as an atom.  Even here we find orbits, minute electrons in a dance with the protons and neutrons at the center.

Why are we attracted to these things?  Why do I find myself almost in tears at the beauty of this place?  Why do certain songs move me, certain harmonies stir something inside me?  And yet, I find even when I get to the mountain peak, set foot on a glacier for the first time, or finish listening to that beautiful melody that there is still a sense of something missing.  It’s almost depressing.  It’s like I want to join in the harmony, to become a part of it, to lose myself in it.  I can get close.  Really close.  But at the end of the hike or at the final note of the song, I’m still an outsider.  Everything else is a part of the dance, but I am standing still.

David Levin Blog - Mount Roberts sunset

C. S. Lewis says it this way in his book “The Weight of Glory”

We do not just want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough.  We want something else which can hardly be put into words–to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to become part of it…That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods.  They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t.  They tell us that ‘beauty born of murmuring sound’ will pass into human face; but it won’t.  Or not yet…

At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door.  We discern the  freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure.  We cannot mingle with the splendors we see.

So what is this dance of nature?  What is this mysterious harmony (although imperfect now) for which I long?  And why can I not get into it?

That story is a long one.  The longest one in the world.  It dates back to time beyond time.  The story was going on eons ago, before our world even began.  It is a story of love and tragedy, but also of hope restored.

Once again I ask you to just play along with my thoughts for a moment.  Even if you disagree with me.  It’s fun to imagine right?

If you grew up in the Bible belt like I did, then you either sang the songs or at least heard the Sunday school lesson (who thought of the name “Sunday school” anyways…I mean we go to school Monday through Friday…wouldn’t we want Sunday off?  Obviously whoever thought this up was not a fan of fun!)  about “God is love”.  You would have heard it over and over again.  The same stories, the same songs.   Then if you’re like me, it became rote memorization.  Then it became disillusionment when you figured out how bad the world really was…or how bad I was.   How can God be love?    To me this is all well and good and it makes for a cute Sunday school lesson until I thought about the implications of what it truly means and how it might explain many of my longings and desires. So let’s examine these claims a bit more closely.

We are taught that God is a personal God and that he is love.  So who does he love? And how do we fit into the story?

Let’s assume for a moment that there is a God and that he has always existed.  Tough stretch of the mind for myself…because my mind is trapped by the concept of time.  But when I think a bit deeper, it makes sense that even time itself had to have come into existence at some point. Therefore it’s logical to think that there is something (or someone) outside of time which was responsible for time.  But I digress.   Let’s also assume that God has always existed in three persons, something else I was taught.  This is called the doctrine of the Trinity and I’m not sure I understand it well enough to explain anything about it.  Let’s suffice it to say that it would be a bit like a two dimensional stick figure trying to explain the concept of a cube to another two dimensional stick figure.  Perhaps that’s not the best illustration but it’s the best I can do when I’m running short on coffee!  The point is that God existing in three persons is tremendously important for the concept of God being love.  For it means that love too has always existed. God was not lonely.  There was perfect love, perfect adoration, perfect community from infinite time past.  The three persons as one in perfect union in perfect love…together forever.  Once again C. S. Lewis describes this better than I can:

All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that ‘God is love’.  But they seem not to notice that the words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person.  If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love.  Of course, what these people mean when they say that God is love is often something quite different: they really mean ‘Love is God’.  They really mean that our feelings of love, however and wherever they arise, and whatever results they produce, are to be treated with great respect. Perhaps they are: but that is something quite different from what Christians mean by the statement ‘God is love’.  They believe that the living, dynamic activity of love has been going on in God forever and has created everything else. And that, by the way, is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that God is not a static thing–but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama.  Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.

Here is where we come to our part in the story.  Even though there was no loneliness, only perfect harmony and community, for some strange reason, God decided to expand the circle.

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…
And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good…
So if we think about the implications of this, it seems to mean that we were intended always to enter in to this dance.  Always adoring and loving our maker and in perfect love and harmony with each other.  The crux of community.  And that’s not all!  We are told that God looked at us and in turn adored us, loved us. We were beautiful.  The world was beautiful because we all mirrored the beauty and love out of which we were made.
Before you start thinking this is too mystical or weird, just mull over it for a second.  What do we do when we are stirred by love and beauty.  We create.  Why do we paint or compose music?  Why do we take pictures of sunsets or landscapes?  Why do we construct buildings…roads to new places etc…  Maybe it’s all biological or natural selection.  Or maybe we can’t help it because even now at some base level we still bear a twisted image of true Love and Beauty.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth;
their words to the end of the world.–Psalm 19:1-3
Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers have
swept over me.–Psalm 42:7
David Levin Blog - Perserverance Trail
So the song that nature is singing (albeit now in an imperfect sort of way) is this:  “Our maker is beautiful…our maker loves us…he is everything.”
This is the dance to which I am trying to join.  This is why I chase beauty. It is what each one of us is trying to fulfill.  Some of us do it by chasing beauty in nature.  Some by chasing it in a woman (or man).  Some of us by wealth or power or fame.  It is likely that many of you (like myself) chase it by just trying to be good enough so that perhaps one day I will be deemed worthy enough to enter in.
Because what we really want is to hear someone say “You are beautiful…there is nothing wrong with you…you are perfect…good…I adore you…you matter…I am pleased with what you have done…I am deeply proud of you…you are noble and courageous…powerful and strong”
We were made to live on that.  Without it, we are dead.  It’s why we spend our lives looking for it.
And we come up empty.  The beauty is not enough.  My relationships either let me down or I unwittingly destroy them.  I can never be good enough.  I can never work hard enough to justify my existence.  The only voice talking to me is that one that says “You are ugly…you don’t make the cut…no matter what you do you will always fail…no one is looking out for you…you are a disappointment…you’re a coward…you are weak”
So what happened?  It seems like the dance is still going on but I am no longer in it.  It appears like all of nature is doing that thing for which it was intended, but I am not.
I was born with this desire to find my own way.  There is a large part of me that wants to make my own dance.  I want to be captain of my soul and the master of my fate.  I don’t want any part of harmony if it means I give up my rights and my independence…especially if it means forgiving those wrongs that have been done to me.  I think this might be what they always talked about in Sunday school as sin.  And to my dismay I find that I love myself above all.  I do not love my maker.  I do not want to fulfill my purpose.  I want to be the center of the orbit…and I’m quite good at being there.
But it means that I’m stationary.
It means I can never enter the dance.
It means I’m dead.
This story is not a tragedy however.  Remember ‘God is love’?  God the three persons in one, perfect in love and harmony, became a man as well.  Another tough thing to think about or explain.  But again, if there is truly a God, it makes sense that there are things about him that would really give us some brain cramps.  Once again, it’s like the two dimensional stick figure trying to explain the concept of volume.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, He came up out of the water.
At that moment heaven was opened
and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove
and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said,
“This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”
Now there was finally a man who could enter the dance!  There is a man who is a part of the circle.  His name is Jesus.  His name is Love.  And then came the unthinkable.  This man was cast out of the circle.  His perfect love and harmony which he had enjoyed from eternity past was ripped from him.  His Father turned his face from him in disgust.
Because he became everything that voice inside of me had been telling me I was.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised and we esteemed him not.–Isaiah 53:3
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned –every one–to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.–Isaiah 53:6
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt.- Isaiah 53:10
For our sake he made him to be sin
who knew no sin,
so that in Him we might become
the righteousness of God.–2 Cor 6:21
Jesus…love incarnate…was unmade so that I could be remade.  So I can be a part of the circle again.  Once again I love how C.S. Lewis puts it:
And now, what does all this matter?  It matters more than anything else in the world.  The whole pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way around) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance.  There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made.  Good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection.  If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water.  If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them.  They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone.  They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very center of reality.  If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry.  Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever?  Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die? 
Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ.  If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which has always existed and always will exist.
He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has–by what I call ‘good infection’.
So are you like me, a chaser of beauty, feeling like it’s never enough?  Do you work tirelessly to make something of yourself, only to feel that nagging voice telling you that it’s meaningless?  Are you trying to enter the dance through your relationships with other people? Through your family even?  Maybe you feel the need to control everything about your life…to just find a place of safety and comfort where no one can hurt you.  But you can never quite get there.
What we all need is to know Love.  I need Love to find me.  I need to know that I am  welcome into the circle…into the dance.
David Levin Blog - Mount Roberts with cross
Now when I get to the top of the mountain, and see the beauty of nature, vast and expansive, stretching before me from horizon to horizon…it speaks to me of that story which has played out from before the dawn of time.  And if I listen closely, I can now hear another voice whispering to me:  “You are my son, who I love dearly.  I am well pleased with you.” 
You can hear it too.  Today if you like.

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