Mary and I had a nice vacation. After a good visit with my family in Iowa, we drove down to Missouri to spend five days in the Ozarks. Where we like to go is some 150 miles east of Branson, in Shannon County, an isolated part of the Ozarks. To give you some idea, the town of Eminence, the county seat, has a population of a little more than 500 people.
We went there for our vacation last year, too. And we went camping there, at Alley Spring, twice when we were first married. Come to think of it, all of the “real” vacations Mary and I have taken have been to Shannon County, of all places. Why is this?
Well, one reason is that it feels like home to me. My parents grew up, and my grandparents are buried, some 30 miles to the west, in the next county. So I’ve been there many, many times. And so, since I’m not what anyone would call an adventuresome traveler, it feels like a safe trip to me. That would be another reason.
But the real reason we go is because the rugged hills, the rivers, and the springs are so very beautiful. There is a quiet beauty all around. Unlike the bold beauty of the Rocky Mountains or Yosemite’s Half Dome, the beauty of Alley Spring, the Current River, and the St. Francois Mountains sneaks up on you to take you by surprise. And I find myself often saying quietly to myself, “Oh!”
On a cool, drizzly morning and in low gear, we drove down the hill to Big Spring, one of the largest springs in the world. The water comes roaring and thumping—the water makes a thumping sound, like it’s bumping up against itself—from the base of a sheer, limestone bluff, from the bottom of a gray rock maybe four or five times as large as the courthouse. The water then surges—a pile of water pushes—and spreads into a blue pool. From there, the spring water flows clear over the gravel bed of the spring branch to the Current River beyond and out of sight. Beautiful.
A few days later, the clouds having removed themselves to the eastern horizon, an autumn sun shone on red and yellow leaves. We went to Alley Spring. Alley isn’t a small spring, but it’s quieter than Big Spring. The water pushes upward from the bottom of a deep, blue pool. The pool is of such a bluish hue it makes one wonder if someone hasn’t thrown some kind of strange dye into it. If you look closely, you can see the surface of the pool barely disturbed by the power of the upward movement occurring below. But then the water rushes out of the pool through the dam of the old, red mill on one side and over some rocks on the other. Down the spring branch it hurries toward the Jacks Fork River, catching the sun as it goes. The water plants growing below the current of the branch are greener than any plant has a right to be. Beautiful.
The beauty of the world. The beauty of the world’s order. You want to put some of it in your pocket or put it in a box to take home. But you can’t; it isn’t something that can be possessed. Neither is this beauty something useful; to use it, to make something out of it, is to disturb or mar it to one degree or another. It is just there. It is there to be loved. And we do. We love the beauty of the world, the beauty of its order.
It is this love that causes us to desire and to possess things. It is this love that compels us to build and to create beautiful things, things that mimic, or imitate, the beauty of the world. This love for the beauty of the world’s order is the reason we desire to control, to exercise power, to order things and people. We can’t help it. This love can get us into all sorts of serious trouble, can cause us to make all kinds of grave mistakes, but we can’t help but love the beauty of the world.
We make mistakes and get into all sorts of trouble because the beauty of this world cannot be possessed. It cannot be used. It is simply there for us to love. In this way is the beauty of the world “telling the glory of God”. In this way does it whisper of what is beyond it, of what cannot be seen. God cannot be possessed. God cannot be used. God is simply there for us to love. And, one way or the other, we do. Really. We can’t help it. It is how we have been made.