In That Sweet Mood...

The sunset from the campus of Xavier College Preparatory, in Palm Desert, CA. Photo by Matt Emerson

Earlier this week, in the early evening, I stepped out of my office and looked up to see the sun glowing behind the mountains (see picture, right). It was an interrupting beauty, instantly transporting me from lesser concerns. 

But as I lingered and adored, I fell into a state that Wordsworth describes as "that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts / Bring sad thoughts to the mind."


The sun and mountains made me think of the typhoon, and I thought, How can such beauty coexist with such terror? How do I appreciate a nature at once so glorious and so ravenous?

As I turned from the view and walked across our silent campus, I began to hear words from a meditation by Fr. John Kavanaugh, S.J. In January of 2005, in this magazine, in a column titled "The Ocean of Life," Fr. Kavanaugh wrote:

If we do not want tidal waves or volcanoes, I guess we cannot want this earth, its atmosphere, its eruptions, its churning tectonic plates, its generative gasses, its mighty mountains and oceans, so awesome and dreadful. If we do not want children of flesh and blood, who can so suddenly and shockingly lose a hand or who have lungs that choke in water, I wonder whether we could even have a human body, its caresses charged with tenderness or its lungs to breathe and sing. I don’t know. But I believe this is the world God made, terrible and awesome, so lovely and lethal.

So lovely and so lethal. That was the poetry I pondered driving home. That was the poetry that made me think: this is a world of the wood of the cross.   


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Bruce Snowden
4 years 11 months ago
Environmental misbehavior creating natural havoc and human Capital sinfulness causing its own types of moral havoc, natural and manmade disasters freaking out the innocent and the not so innocent, or as Jesus says the Father allowing "rain to fall on the just and the unjust." The pain and suffering of catastrophic calamities no matter the origin are theoretically predictable, reminding of what Albert Einstein supposedly said, "With God there are no coincidences." No surprises, And yet there are! True, certain kinds of suffering such as observed in afflicted babies and children, can turn Belief into a lumpy mass in the soul's throat, causing Faith-oriented people to utter the Gospel plea, "I do believe Lord, help my unbelief!" But as terrible as pain and suffering can be, it's not altogether bad. When heeded pain causing suffering may become a life sustaining experience. When ignored it could lead to that box in the ground, pathway to oblivion that Unbelievers claim as the ultimate human heritage, Ostrich-headed in their assertion that, "pain and suffering are merely by-products of an indifferent evolving world" they seem to relish the dust! Yes, much of the "groans of creation awaiting redemption" or deliverance, vanish when properly addressed and treated by way of medical, or scientific intervention at the human level. "It is the sick not the healthy who need a physician " so spoke the Man from Galilee, offering a simple but essential way to tackle the pain of the cosmos present in all of us. Now science has to learn how to better control certain destructive forces of nature, brutal yet also in certain ways life-sustaining, humbly obedient to God's commanded invitation, "Subdue the earth!" I too know something about "that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts bring sad thoughts to the mind." As Matt Emerson further reminds, "this is a world of the wood of the cross." Fortunately the wood of the cross was once a living tree that lost its life so that others may live, related to the "so lovely and so lethal" realities of life that abound giving credence to Jesuit Father John Kavanaugh ( God rest his noble soul) who said, "This is the world God has made, terrible and awesome ..." yes, "lovely and so lethal."
Matt Emerson
4 years 11 months ago

Mr. Snowden: a very thoughtful reply, thanks for sharing.  You speak with wisdom, of someone having experienced both joy and suffering and the duality of our condition.  Your point that the cross "was once a living tree that lost its life so that others may live" resonates with poetic impact; another insightful aspect of the story of our redemption . . . 

Gratefully, Matt

Bruce Snowden
4 years 11 months ago
Matt, thanks for taking time to respond. Yes, inescapably suffering and joy are life's indelible marks, the laminins of life. of Christian life. Laminins look like crosses under the microscope and it's the cross that holds us together, not only spiritually, but naturally too, truly a Divine "glue." Be blessed! P.S. I like reading your writings.


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