Last week I was standing on the sand of the Pacific Ocean. While children played in the sand and surfers tried to catch a wave I watched as the sun began to set in the western horizon. The noise of the ocean was deafening, repeating the same cadence over and over. As I stood on the beach of this vast body of water with my family I couldn’t help but feel small.
I can’t remember who said it, so forgive me for my lack of precise citation. But the words of someone more wise than I once said that the purpose of art and beauty is to make us feel small in all the appropriate ways. That quote came to mind in that moment. I wish it was original, but its not.
Along side that quote came another quote, the citation of which I do recall.
The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world.
God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.
It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding.
It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race.
The sun rises at one end of the heavens
and follows its course to the other end.
Nothing can hide from its heat. (Psalm 19:1-6, NLT)
This Psalm is attributed to David, who would have been quite familiar with the grandeur of creation. In his observations of the beauty of the earth he saw the greatness of God and the smallness of self. Creation, beauty, and art all have the ability to keep us right sized. For some it’s a piece of music or poetry. Others see it in a painting or a photo. Like my experience, many find it beside the ocean, atop a mountain range, or within a well manicured vineyard, or the face of a child. This greatness keeps us right sized, but not in the sense that we are worthless and of no value. These images and experiences remind us that we are something in God’s eyes, but that we’re not the only thing God cherishes. Each of us is part of something bigger than ourselves. I, for one, need that reminder.
When all we look at is our neighborhoods and possessions we eventually look only at ourselves. That which is close and common become our points of comparison and the basis of how we determine whether we’re winning at life. If my income is a bit bigger, my car a bit newer, my house a bit larger, and my kids GPA a bit higher then I become self congratulatory in the “bigger barns” I have built. Our lives become wealthier, but our hearts become smaller, and we become smaller in all of the inappropriate ways.
The solution? Get right sized. Intentionally put yourself in places with perspectives that remind you of who you really are in the context of God’s universe. Let me quote King David once more.
O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
Your glory is higher than the heavens.
You have taught children and infants
to tell of your strength,
silencing your enemies
and all who oppose you.
When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You gave them charge of everything you made,
putting all things under their authority—the flocks and the herds
and all the wild animals,
the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,
and everything that swims the ocean currents.
O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth! (Psalm 8:1-8, NLT)