Glorious 17th Century: November 2003 Archives

Christ Altogether Lovely XII

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Here's another passage that needs very little in the way of explication. The vision of humanity is distinctly puritan and somewhat repugnant to Catholic sensibilities; however, if we transfer that description to the description of a soul in sin, we are not too far off the mark.

from "Christ Altogether Lovely:
Rev. John Flavel

Secondly, He is a lovely bridegroom to all that he betroths to himself. How does the church glory in him, in the words following my text; "this is my Beloved, and this is my Friend, O ye daughters of Jerusalem!" Heaven and earth cannot show anyone like him, which needs no fuller proof than the following particulars:

1. That he betroths to himself, in mercy and in loving kindness, such deformed, defiled, and altogether unworthy souls as we are. We have no beauty, no goodness to make us desirable in his eyes; all the origins of his love to us are in his own breast, Deut. 7:7. He chooses us, not because we were, but in order that he might make us lovely Eph. 5:27. He came to us when we lay in our blood, and said unto us, "Live"; and that was the time of love, Ezek. 16:5.

2. He expects no restitution from us, and yet gives himself, and all that he has, to us. Our poverty cannot enrich him, but he made himself poor to enrich us, 2 Cor. 8:9. 1 Cor. 3:22.

3. No husband loves the wife of his bosom, as much as Christ loved his people, Eph. 5:25. He loved the church and gave him self for it.

4. No one bears with weaknesses and provocations as Christ does; the church is called "the Lamb's wife," Rev. 19:9.

5. No husband is so undying and everlasting a husband as Christ is; death separates all other relations, but the soul's union with Christ is not dissolved in the grave. Indeed, the day of a believer's death is his marriage day, the day of his fullest enjoyment of Christ. No husband can say to his wife, what Christ says to the believer, "I will never leave you, nor forsake you," Heb. 8:5.

6. No bridegroom enriches his bride with such honours by marriage, as Christ does; he makes them related to God as their father, and from that day the mighty and glorious angels think it no dishonour to be their servants, Heb. 1:14. The angels will admire the beauty and glory of the spouse of Christ, Rev. 21:9.

7. No marriage was ever consummated with such triumphal proceedings as the marriage of Christ and believers shall be in heaven, Psalm 14:14,15. "She shall be brought to the king in raiment of needle-work, the virgins, her companions that follow her, shall be brought unto thee; with gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought; they shall enter into the king's palace." Among the Jews, the marriage-house was called the house of praise; there was joy upon all hands, but nothing like the joy that will be in heaven when believers, the spouse of Christ, shall be brought there. God the Father will rejoice to behold the blessed accomplishment and confirmation of those glorious plans of his love. Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom will rejoice to see the travail of his soul, the blessed birth and product of all his bitter pains and agonies, Isa. 53:11. The Holy Spirit will rejoice to see the completion and perfection of that sanctifying design which was committed to his hand, 2 Cor. 5:5, to see those souls whom he once found as rough stones, now to shine as the bright, polished stones of the spiritual temple. Angels will rejoice: great was the joy when the foundation of this design was laid, in the incarnation of Christ, Luke 2:13. Great therefore must their joy be, when the top-stone is set up with shouting, crying, "Grace, grace." The saints themselves shall rejoice unspeakably, when they shall enter into the King's palace, and be forever with the Lord, 1 Thes. 4:17. Indeed there will be joy on all hands, except among the devils and damned, who shall gnash their teeth with envy at the everlasting advancement and glory of believers. Thus Christ is altogether lovely, in the relation of a Bridegroom.

Just as man and woman are made whole and one, in some sense, through the sacrament of marriage, the Marriage of the Soul to Christ is the sign of being made complete. Christ as bridegroom welcomes us to the completion of our days, and so this may be the loveliest of the image of Christ presented.

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Christ Altogether Lovely XI

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We approach the end of the sermon. We will discuss His loveliness in His relations in four parts, and then we will arrive at application. And this is what I love about this kind of sermon--it is rounded out with "So how do I make that useful in my life?" Often the sermons we here, the homilies propounded give a nice glimpse into the world of the Bible, but too often one leaves with no real expectation of acting on what was said because little was provided in the way of guidance. The Puritan sermonizers left little to the imagination when it came to this aspect of preaching. Preaching was to be a practical application of God's prinicples to human life.

from "Christ Altogether Lovely"
Rev. John Flavel

He is Lovely in His Relations.


First, He is a lovely Redeemer, Isa. 61:1. He came to open the prison-doors to them that are bound. Needs must this Redeemer be a lovely one, if we consider the depth of misery from which he redeemed us, even "from the wrath to come," 1 Thess. 1:10. Consider the numbers redeemed, and the means of their redemption. Rev. 5:9, "And they sang a new song, saying, 'You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood, out of every kindred and tongue, and people and nation.'" He redeemed us not with silver and gold, but with his own precious blood, by way of price, 1 Pet. 1:18,19. with his out-stretched and glorious arm, by way of power, Col. 1:13. he redeemed us freely, Eph. 1:7, fully Rom. 8:1, at the right time, Gal. 4:4, and out of special and particular love, John 17:9. In a word, he has redeemed us for ever, never more to come into bondage, 1 Pet. 1:5. John 10:28. O how lovely is Jesus Christ in the relation of a Redeemer to God's elect!

He opens the doors of the prison. Where there was darkness, He shines light. Where one could not see, now all is clear. Is there anything more lovely than the smell of fresh air when one has been confined for hours in a stuffy room? How much more so then, when one has been wallowing in the enclosed chamber of one's own sinfulness for a lifetime--what must the breeze of the spirit smell like then. Altogether lovely.

And consider this--He is altogether lovely in that the redemption He offers is for all people for all time. He leaves the ninety-nine and searches out the one lost. He harrowed hell to take back His own, and He constantly works wonders to redeem souls thought lost--consider Matt Talbot, Dorothy Day, (St.?) Charles de Foucauld, St. Augustine, and others who initially lived less than exemplary lives. See how their lives were transformed in His own. Altogether lovely.

See how the action of redemption works in your own life when you let it. See how it can free you from present misery and render you capable of service to the Kingdom of God. Through you, God may speak and redeem a great many others. Altogether lovely.

And the redemption was in His blood and His suffering. He didn't wave a magic wand and cause all human suffering to pass away. He suffered, toiled, died, was laid in the tomb, and rose again in glorious splendor. He ascended into heaven in a sign of our own destined ascension. Altogether lovely.

He is indeed altogether lovely in His relations. He has paid the price for us, and we are unfit to wash His feet, and yet He raises us to the dignity of sons and daughters. Altogether lovely.

Flavel's sermon makes me want to sing His praises all day and all my life--and that is truly the Spirit of God speaking through a man of God. Praise God for His goodness and mercy, the redemption He won for us. Praise Him, the One, Altogether Lovely.

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Christ Altogether Lovely X

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I continue now the discussion of "Christ Altogether Lovely." While the doctrine is not thoroughly Catholic, the expression of love for Jesus is profoundly stirring and Flavel points up some things that we too often miss. Find the complete sermon here.

from "Christ Altogether Lovely"
Rev. John Flavel

He is Lovely in His Offices


Secondly, He is altogether lovely in his offices: let us consider for a moment the suitability, fullness, and comforting nature of them.

First, The suitability of the offices of Christ to the miseries of men. We cannot but adore the infinite wisdom of his receiving them. We are, by nature, blind and ignorant, at best but groping in the dim light of nature after God, Acts 17:27. Jesus Christ is a light to lighten the Gentiles, Isa. 49:6. When this great prophet came into the world, then did the day-spring from on high visit us, Luke 1:78. By nature we are alienated from, and at enmity against God; Christ comes into the world to be an atoning sacrifice, making peace by the blood of his cross, Col. 1:20. All the world, by nature, is in bondage and captivity to Satan, a miserable slavery. Christ comes with kingly power, to rescue sinners, as a prey from the mouth of the terrible one.

Secondly, Let the fullness of his offices be also considered, which make him able "to save to the uttermost, all that come to God by him," Heb. 7:25. The three offices, comprising in them all that our souls do need, become an universal relief to all our distresses; and therefore,

Thirdly, Unspeakably comforting must the offices of Christ be to the souls of sinners. If light be pleasant to our eyes, how pleasant is that light of life springing from the Sun of righteousness! Mal. 4:2. If a pardon be sweet to a condemned criminal, how sweet must the sprinkling the blood of Jesus be to the trembling conscience of a law-condemned sinner? If a rescue from a cruel tyrant is sweet to a poor captive, how sweet must it be to the ears of enslaved sinners, to hear the voice of liberty and deliverance proclaimed by Jesus Christ? Out of the several offices of Christ, as out of so many fountains, all the promises of the new covenant flow, as so many soul-refreshing streams of peace and joy. All the promises of illumination, counsel and direction flow out of Christ's prophetic office. All the promises of reconciliation, peace, pardon, and acceptation flow out of his priestly office, with the sweet streams of joy and spiritual comforts which accompany it. All the promises of converting, increasing, defending, directing, and supplying grace, flow out of the kingly office of Christ; indeed, all promises may be reduced to these three offices, so that Jesus Christ must be altogether lovely in his offices.

In all that He was appointed to do for us, there is perfection that transcends the human ability to express. He has perfectly served God's purposes in the redemption He won for us and more perfectly yet served each one of us. I am amazed most particularly by the last paragraph here. Is there a sound sweeter to those burdened than the music that means rest and quiet? Is there a gift greater to those who are in captivity than freedom, and not only freedom, but freedom with dignity and with possibility? We are not set free to struggle yet further for ourselves, as often happens with human captives. Rather we are set free to continue in the perfect freedom of Jesus Christ.

Indeed Christ is altogether lovely in all that He has done for us. In all that He is appointed to do He answers the office to perfection. Another cause for deep praise and tremendous devotion.

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November Poem--George Herbert--Time

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George Herbert is one of the greatest poets with explicitly Christian themes. His works are still vibrant and meaningful today, and nearly everyone has already encountered him either in "The Temple" or in "Easter Wings," two of the most widely anothologized poems in the English language.

Note: the word "sithe" below is not the usual "sith" or "since" as context conveys, but an archaic spelling of scythe.

Time
George Herbert

Meeting with Time, slack thing, said I,
Thy sithe is dull; whet it for shame.
No marvell Sir, he did replie,
If it at length deserve some blame:
But where one man would have me grinde it,
Twentie for one too sharp do finde it.

Perhaps some such of old did passe,
Who above all things lovíd this life:
To whom thy sithe a hatchet was,
Which now is but a pruning knife.
Christs coming hath made man thy debter,
Since by thy cutting he grows better.

And in his blessing thou art blest:
For where thou onely wert before
An executioner at best;
Thou art a gardíner now, and more,
An usher to convey our souls
Beyond the utmost starres and poles.

And this is that makes life so long,
While it detains us from our God.
Evín pleasures here increase the wrong,
And length of dayes lengthen the rod.
Who wants the place, where God doth dwell,
Partakes already half of hell.

Of what strange length must that needs be,
Which evín eternitie excludes!
Thus farre Time heard me patiently:
Then chafing said, This man deludes:
What do I here before his doore?
He doth not crave lesse time, but more.


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Christ Altogether Lovely IX

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from "Christ Altogether Lovely" Rev. John Flavel

How Christ is "Altogether Lovely"

Secondly, Next I promised to show you in what respects Jesus Christ is altogether lovely:


He is Lovely in His Person

First, He is altogether lovely in his person: he is Deity dwelling in flesh, John 1:14. The wonderful, perfect union of the divine and human nature in Christ renders him an object of admiration and adoration to both angels and men, 1 Tim. 3:16. God never presented to the world such a vision of glory before. Consider how the human nature of our Lord Jesus Christ is overflowing with all the graces of the Spirit, in such a way as never any of the saints was filled. O what a lovely picture does this paint of him! John 3:34, "God gives the Spirit [to him] without limit." This makes him"the most excellent of men and [his] lips have been anointed with grace," Psalm 45:2. If a small measure of grace in the saints makes them sweet and desirable companions, what must the riches of the Spirit of grace filling Jesus Christ without measure make him in the eyes of believers? O what a glory must it fix upon him!

He is adorable to both angels and men. Now there is a thought. He is adorable and lovely to beings whose first words to an human are "fear not." These magnificent warriors and messengers of heaven fall on their knees to adore Christ in His humanity and divinity.

Another point here--if virtue is valued in the saints, and such virtue is merely the pale reflection of God's fullness of grace, how much more should we be valuing Jesus Christ. Jesus is the most desirable of companions. Ever present, ever ready to help, always cradling us in a loving embrace--the wisest of counselors, the truest of friends, the only one who will speak the truth to use when others have abandoned truth for gain. Jesus does not merely reflect divinity, He is divinity. The light He brings is the purest of light--so pure indeed that no prism can break or bend it, nor mirror stop its beam. In His light all things are seen as they are. More they are seen in tender love and compassion, so flawed, broken, and imperfect, they are transformed in His light into the image of what they are in God's eye.

As the Holy Father expresses in a letter of 5 August 2002:

from "The Beauty (of Christ) Will Save the World"
A Letter of John Paul II dated 5 August 2002

The radiance of the beauty we contemplate opens the soul to the mystery of God. The Book of Wisdom reproached those who "were unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists" (13,1), from the admiration of their beauty they should have been able to ascend to their Author (cf. 1,3; 3). Indeed, "from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator" (13,5). Beauty has a pedagogical power that can introduce us effectively to the knowledge of the truth. Finally, it leads to Christ who is the Truth. Indeed, when love and the quest for beauty flow from a vision of faith, we can have a deeper perception of things and enter into contact with the One who is the source of every beautiful thing.

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A return to one of my favorite centuries of poetry and to a lyric that is most marvelous and wonderful--one that may have a certain resonance with one of our parish priests

Christ Crucified
Richard Crashaw

THY restless feet now cannot go †
††For us and our eternal good, †
As they were ever wont. What though †
††They swim, alas! in their own flood? †

Thy hands to give Thou canst not lift, †††††††††
††Yet will Thy hand still giving be; †
It gives, but O, itself's the gift! †
††It gives tho' bound, tho' bound 'tis free!

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Christ Altogether Lovely VIII

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from "Christ Altogether Lovely"
Rev. John Flavel

6. All other loveliness cannot satisfy the soul of man. There is not scope enough in any one created thing, or in all the natural universe of created things for the soul of man to reach out and expand; but the soul still feels itself confined and narrowed within those limits. This comes to pass from the inadequacy and unsuitableness of the creature to the nobler and more excellent soul of man. The soul is like a ship in a narrow river which does not have room to turn. It is always running aground and foundering in the shallows. But Jesus Christ is in every way sufficient to the vast desires of the soul; in him it has sea-room enough. In him the soul may spread all its sails with no fear of touching bottom. And thus you see what is the importance of this phrase, "Altogether lovely."

Last week I refrained from comment on the longish excerpt that I noted. However, I need to return to this because I spent much of the weekend thinking about it. "All other loveliness can not satisfy the soul of man." This strikes me as both a wonderful and a terrible thing. If we spend our lives seeking out beauty, no matter how much we find, we will have to find more before we can become satisfied--and if all the beauty we find is merely in the world, no matter how much we find we will not be satisfied. However, if we were confined to a single room, unable to leave, and unable to see anything other than the walls arouind us and we spent the time gazing upon Christ, while we might long to be outside those walls, we would wait upon the Lord and be satisfied with the loveliness of Christ's face and the graciousness of God's will.

"In Him the soul may spread its sails with no fear of touching bottom." In Christ alone is there sufficient depth to bring us to our home port. All else fails. All loveliness, all human works, all human devices and desires, all natural things, all Holy things apart from Christ (an Egyptian Bastet isn't likely to be of much help), everything other than Christ is insufficient. But in Christ alone is depth and height, beauty and perfection, all goodness and all glory. In Christ alone is there sufficient room to move--"we live and move and have our being."

Christ is the vast and beautiful sea of all that is good, holy, and worthwhile. And we do well to spend some time at this oceanside, perhaps finally gaining the courage to take off our sandals and stroll in the surf--perhaps eventually setting sail, with no land in sight, but with great joy in our hearts as we explore all that God has in store for us.

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Christ Altogether Lovely VI

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I will refrain from extended comment after the excerpt, for what can be added that would not detract from its simplicity? I just bring to your attention the recent work of Fr. Thomas Dubay The Evidentiary Power of Beauty and remark that it treads much the same ground at a finer level. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to take some time to experience some of this beauty. Here is Florida it is easily done--the birds that have dispersed through all the states return in droves so every lawn is whited with the whiteness of egrets and ibises, and the blossoms of the short day flowers color all and sundry. The new birth of lizards and snakes gives us the smallest of creatures, and those few deciduous trees we have give us some moments of glittering color and a few leaves drop.

from "Christ Altogether Lovely"
Rev. John Flavel

Fifthly, "Altogether lovely," i.e. Transcending all created excellencies in beauty and loveliness. If you compare Christ and other things, no matter how lovely, no matter how excellent and desirable, Christ carries away all loveliness from them. "He is (as the apostle says) before all things," Col. 1:17. Not only before all things in time, nature, and order; but before all things in dignity, glory, and true excellence. In all things he must have the pre-eminence. Let us but compare Christ's excellence with the creature's in a few particulars, and how manifest will the transcendent loveliness of Jesus Christ appear! For,

1. All other loveliness is derived and secondary; but the loveliness of Christ is original and primary. Angels and men, the world and all the desirable things in it, receive what excellence they crave from him. They are streams from the fountain. The farther any thing departs from its fountain and original, the less excellency there is in it.

2. The loveliness and excellency of all other things, is only relative, consisting in its reference to Christ, and subservience to his glory. But Christ is lovely, considered absolutely in himself. He is desirable for himself; other things are desirable because of him.

3. The beauty and loveliness of all other things are fading and perishing; but the loveliness of Christ is fresh for all eternity. The sweetness of the best created thing is a fading flower; if not before, yet certainly at death it must fade away. Job 4:21. "Doth not their excellency, which is in them, go away?" Yes, yes, whether they are the natural excellencies of the body, acquired endowments of the mind, lovely features, graceful qualities, or anything else we find attractive; all these like pleasant flowers are withered, faded, and destroyed by death. "But Christ is still the same, yesterday, today, and for ever," Heb. 13:8.

4. The beauty and holiness of creatures are ensnaring and dangerous. A man may make an idol out of them, and indulge himself beyond the bounds of moderation with them, but there is no danger of excess in the love of Christ. The soul is then in the healthiest frame and temper when it is most overwhelmed by love to Christ, Song of Songs 5:8.

5. The loveliness of every creature is of a confining and obstructing nature. Our esteem of it diminishes the closer we approach to it, or the longer we enjoy it. Creatures, like pictures, are fairest at a certain distance, but it is not so with Christ; the nearer the soul approaches him, and the longer it lives in the enjoyment of him, still the sweeter and more desirable he becomes.

6. All other loveliness cannot satisfy the soul of man. There is not scope enough in any one created thing, or in all the natural universe of created things for the soul of man to reach out and expand; but the soul still feels itself confined and narrowed within those limits. This comes to pass from the inadequacy and unsuitableness of the creature to the nobler and more excellent soul of man. The soul is like a ship in a narrow river which does not have room to turn. It is always running aground and foundering in the shallows. But Jesus Christ is in every way sufficient to the vast desires of the soul; in him it has sea-room enough. In him the soul may spread all its sails with no fear of touching bottom. And thus you see what is the importance of this phrase, "Altogether lovely."

Find the entire sermon here

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Christ Altogether Lovely V

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from Christ Altogether Lovely
Rev. John Flavel

Fourthly, "Altogether lovely," i.e. Nothing is lovely in opposition to him, or in separation from him. If he truly is altogether lovely, then whatsoever is opposite to him, or separate from him can have no loveliness in it. Take away Christ, and where is the loveliness of any enjoyment? The best creature-comfort apart from Christ is but a broken cistern. It cannot hold one drop of true comfort, Psalm 73:26. It is with the creature--the sweetest and loveliest creature--as with a beautiful image in the mirror: turn away the face and where is the image? Riches, honours, and comfortable relations are sweet when the face of Christ smiles upon us through them; but without him, what empty trifles are they all?

Which brings up the natural corollary--whatever is unlovely in action, word, person, or object is not of Christ. Whence then if not of Christ? Well then it seems two possible causes--the original Fall corrupted not only human nature, but dragged down with it all of nature, and the work of Satan. Satan cannot create, but he can work on what is created to distort. Whatever is unlovely has its source at one of these two fonts. And we are assured by Paul that nature groans for release from the bonds that hold it down. While there are mechanical aspects of a mosquito that are beautiful and remarkable, the propensity for spreading disease and its unpleasant source of food both are unlovely. And Christ has no part in these--we look to the other sources. Now, interestingly, even though He has no part in their production, they do serve His ends as do all created things.

But we should keep in mind, nothing is lovely in opposition to or separation from Jesus Christ. No matter how noble the cause, no matter how deserving the pursuit, if it is not done for the Glory of God at the behest of Jesus Himself, there can be no loveliness in it. Let me give you a prime example. Some people who support the right to abortion do so from a sense of the desperation of the people involved in these situations. They see the poverty and the struggles and the difficulties of the people who are suffering and conclude (erroneously) that their burden would be lightened if only they could relieve themselves of some part of the difficulty. While the motive--alleviation of suffering--might be noble, the effect is evil. It does not come from God nor does it properly fulfill God's commandment to love your neighbor--the quick fix is chosen over the proper thing to do. So too with all our ends. If the proper means is not God's will and God's grace, then the end is likely to be very ugly.

This can lead to long and complicated discussion about God's will in our lives, but I think simple discernment through prayer can help in all of these cases. There are causes that are always good--praying for the good of another, feeding, clothing, and providing shelter for the homeless--these things are things we are obligated to do in some way or another.

The important key is that whatever is beautiful in the world is beautiful inasmuch as it partakes of Christ's beauty. He makes all things lovely. The loveliness of every human being comes from Jesus Christ.

And I sometimes wonder if anyone at all is reading any of these reflections, or if because they come from another tradition, they are not at all interesting. And it occurs to me that it little matters, because this is what I feel God has given me to do here and not to do it would be a far greater folly than to continue in the face of silence.

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Christ Altogether Lovely IV

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from "Christ Altogether Lovely"
John Flavel

Fourthly, "Altogether lovely," i.e. Nothing is lovely in opposition to him, or in separation from him. If he truly is altogether lovely, then whatsoever is opposite to him, or separate from him can have no loveliness in it. Take away Christ, and where is the loveliness of any enjoyment? The best creature-comfort apart from Christ is but a broken cistern. It cannot hold one drop of true comfort, Psalm 73:26. It is with the creature--the sweetest and loveliest creature--as with a beautiful image in the mirror: turn away the face and where is the image? Riches, honours, and comfortable relations are sweet when the face of Christ smiles upon us through them; but without him, what empty trifles are they all?

If the loveliness of a created thing is sought for itself, it ceases to be lovely--it becomes a momentary distraction from the true loveliness that informas all of creation. If our pursuit of art, beauty, mathematics, science, love, or any other good thing is absent an underlying pursuit of the God who created them all, it is ultimately futile--ashes and dust.

All beautiful things derive their beauty from the One Most Beautiful. All things that are endearing and charming receive their essential character from Jesus Christ. How often do we pause and let the realization that the beauty we are perceiving comes from Christ and reflects him. In the blossom of the hibiscus and in the wonder of the small lizard, everything that entrances does so because of His beauty. And what seems beautiful and does not partake of Him is corruption and horror--and there are those things in the world today.

Spend some time today thanking God for the beauty around you and seeing Him in that beauty. Spend some time with Jesus and let Him know that you are aware of His loveliness that knits the world together into a wonderful and glorious place to live.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Glorious 17th Century category from November 2003.

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