A rock in the eye

It has been said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” as if all that matters is who’s looking. But this partially moss-covered rock formation that caught my eye this morning beside the Bruce Trail surely must have a beauty in its own right.

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Or, I found myself wondering – and I can’t honestly feel like I can say much more than this – was it alone before I happened to come by? Maybe I was intruding, or not. Maybe I was welcome, and that was part of the experience.

The question arises, I suppose, what or who else was there? We mortals are curious beings, bound and determined, some of us, to turn over every rock we find to see what’s under, to open every door, ask questions and demand answers, of everything.

That’s certainly a good and healthy thing to do in the vast majority of circumstances; “the unexamined life is not worth living,” a learned man once said.

But is it really wise to take all  the mystery out of life?

Many years ago when I attended a church university I had to take a religious knowledge course. It was compulsory for first-year students. It turned out to be the most interesting and memorable course I took, which should have told me something. And by far the most memorable lecture Professor Wagner gave was about Moses and his encounter with “the burning bush.”

The biblical story, as told in Exodus, speaks of the voice of God appointing Moses to lead the Hebrew slaves out of their bondage in ancient Egypt. But Moses is reluctant. Who am I, he says, to do such a thing? And when the people ask who you are, what will I tell them?

Prof. Wagner had already told us in the previous lecture about the semitic root words that made up the Hebrew word for God, as in Jehovah, or yahweh. They literally translate in English as “I am,” he said.

So, when God, in response to Moses’ last question, replied, “I am who I am,” what he was really saying to Moses, and for him to pass on to the Hebrews, was “it’s none of your business,” Prof. Wagner said.

From that point on in the Hebrew religion the worst thing anyone could do was claim to understand the mystery of God, or that they knew what God looked like. So much of God’s power was in the mystery, and to essentially make an idol was to belittle and diminish that power; and that was very dangerous.

I’ve forgotten many things I learned in school those many years ago; but that may be the one lesson I remember better than any.

I often think of it when I listen to the great music I love, certain compositions by Bach, Beethoven, Barber, and especially Prokoviev. I am not a musician or a musicologist, far from it. I couldn’t read a note of music if my life depended on it.

But I am moved to the depths of my heart and soul by the sublimely beautiful melody, first played by a solo oboe, at the beginning of the second movement of Barber’s violin concerto. And a minute or so of the ebb and flow, just a few bars of reflective, musical mystery in the midst of Prokoviev’s 9th piano sonata never fails to . . .

Well, I’m at a loss for words, finally. All I can say is it surpasses all understanding, and yet it speaks the truth.

Like that rock in the eye of . . .

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