Last week I spent four days in Yosemite National Park continuing my quest to visit all of our country’s national parks. (I am now at twenty-six parks visited.) Each park – I have found – has its own particular beauty and awe. What most struck me in Yosemite was Yosemite Valley itself. Via the entrance road from El Portal, you weave into the valley catching hints of the surrounding mountains through the standing ponderosa pine trees. Yet, it is only within the valley that you are brought into a full awareness of the enormity of the surrounding cliffs and mountains that loom large over the fields, river and forests. One would think that the sheer cliffs and mountain rockfaces would weigh down on the valley and any person within it but the opposite is the case. El Capitain and Half-Dome continually pull one’s line of sight upwards and beyond oneself. Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls, even as they drop into the valley, beckon the viewer to look up to the source of their waters. Even the tall ponderosa pines direct one towards the sky and what is above. Every aspect within this valley draws the person upwards.
John Muir named Yosemite Valley, “Nature’s Cathedral” and I cannot help but believe this upward movement of the valley is part of what Muir experienced himself and what, at least partly, stands behind his designation. Cathedrals and basilicas – by design – are meant to draw the person upwards into the transcendent and that which is beyond oneself. Interesting note – the basilica I found myself just naturally beginning to remember while standing in Yosemite Valley was La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. On a tour of the famous basilica a number of years ago, I remember our group’s tour guide remarking how Antoni Gaudi based the design of the church not so much on the foundation sunk in the earth but rather on the movement of being drawn upward and this is witnessed to throughout the architecture. I have no idea if Gaudi knew anything about Yosemite Valley but I believe what he sought to express through his design of La Sagrada Familia finds deep natural resonance in the wonder and upward movement of Yosemite Valley.
Both John Muir and Antoni Gaudi were men steeped in the Christian faith. Muir’s father was a presbyterian minister who raised his children on the words of Scripture. Gaudi was a devoted Catholic whose life and work were guided by his faith. Both men were also devoted to the beauty of creation. Gaudi saw his basilica as a reflection of creation and the wonder that the Creator has entered within creation by the incarnation. Muir’s life was marked by an Old Testament prophet’s zeal for creation and humanity’s responsibility to be good stewards of what has been entrusted to us.
The fact that both of these men – coming from different parts of the world and from different life experiences – each had a sense of the wonder of creation and its upward movement AND were steeped in the language and thought of Christianity is no coincidence I believe. The language of Scripture which speaks of both creation and Creator, the awareness of the sublime wonder of the incarnation and resurrection and the hunch of what that implies for all of creation as well as a felt knowledge of grace in ones own life were all truths deeply embedded in each of these men (given ample witness in their work and words) and this is what gave them both the intuition required to sense the upward movement of a creation both weighed in reality and set free by grace as well as the words needed to give voice to that movement whether that be through the language of soaring architecture or the stirring words of essay, written letter or fireside conversations with an American president.
Christianity, when not manipulated by a perverse ideology of selfish domination, offers a person the awareness needed to truly listen to the heart of creation. This is expressed throughout the scope of Scripture and witnessed by a Savior who himself was fully attuned to all of the wonder and nuances of creation – just reflect on how he continually drew on creation to teach us about the Kingdom.
John Muir heard the heart of creation reverberating through Yosemite Valley. Antoni Gaudi heard the heart of creation and gave it voice in the soaring spires of La Sagrada Familia. Another Christian by the name of Paul also heard it and this reflection will end with his words:
“For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord by because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all of creation is groaning in labor pains even until now.” (Rom. 8:19-22)
Stephen Golder said:
Excellent Fr. Michael!
Have a Blessed Day!
Sent from my iPhone, as if you would care in the least, but the phone seems to think that this is important for you to know.
Andrea Kanelopoulos said:
This is truly beautiful. Some of the places I miss most about having left years ago. The beauty you write about was made even more glorified as I led Young Adult Retreats annually there…mass outside in this surreal setting brought to life all of what you speak. It is truly a place of God that is magnified in ways that one has to experience it to receive all its wondrous gifts. Thank you for this reminder…peace.