10 June 2013

Immensity and Grandeur

Immensity and grandeur are not words which trip off the contemporary lip. Etymologically, immensity means that which cannot be measured. Thus, it is properly one of the attributes of God among those in the Scholastic or neo-Scholastic Christian traditions. Every created thing can, in principle, be measured but God cannot. But we immediately perceive the impersonal nature of the category of immensity. To say, even correctly, that God cannot be measured is to say very little about God and nothing about what should be our attitude toward God. Unless our contemplation has something positive on which to latch, the way of negation is a very tough road to toe.

The attribute of immensity came to mind when last week I viewed the Grand Canyon from a variety of vantages. While technically not immense--after all, the volume of the Canyon can be calculated--my emotional response to its vast width, depth, and length was one of respectful caution. Impressed to be sure but my heart was not warmed, strangely or otherwise.
View from Powell Point

But for a few birds and the clouds with their shadows, the picture is without life or even the suggestion of motion. Despite the heat of the day, one--or at least I--felt none of the positive emotions such as love or gratitude.

By way of contrast, Zion Canyon evoked the spirit of grandeur. Zion was warming and affirming of my place in God's magnificent world. It was at Zion that I felt the truth of Gerard Manly Hopkins's line that "The world is charged with the grandeur of God."
Zion Canyon toward the South

Perhaps the differences in my responses was due to perspective: from above at the Grand Canyon but from below at Zion, which allowed me to step into the Virgin River and see vegetation and even wild life immediately at hand. Perhaps they were caused by the Mormon penchant of naming Zion, well, Zion, and many points within it with imaginations formed by the Scriptures. In any event, now that I've returned to the work-a-day world of trade, commerce and law, I'll conclude with the full text of Hopkins's poem, God's Grandeur:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
        It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
        It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
        And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil;
        And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
        There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
        Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
        World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings

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