By Branson Hipp
In our world that spends increasingly more time in front of screens, we have had two sharp and contrasting experiences of nature break upon us; we’ve seen the beauty of the solar eclipse and the utter devastation of Hurricane Harvey, all within the span of a week.
One was an invitation to wonder and awe, to be moved by the mystery of the cosmos, and the other a reminder of the horrific impartiality of nature that can sweep away what we once thought was stable. It’s a jarring experience, and as a young priest worried that my generation is becoming increasingly divorced from reality to hide within new worlds of distraction, it was a joy to see so many people travel great distances to be within the path of totality and be amazed by the beauty and mystery of creation. And yet this same nature that we are moved by and is a sign of the presence of another, can also devastate an entire area within such a short period of time.
To stand between the almost affectionate majesty of nature and it’s terrible power can feel like a profound contradiction. As G.K. Chesterton wrote so succinctly in his novel “The Man who was Thursday:” “Bad is so bad, we cannot but think good an accident; good is so good, that we feel certain evil could be explained.” How is it possible to live in the midst of both of these experiences that feel irreconcilable?
One of the most frustrating experiences in the midst of difficulty is someone offering a cheap, easy answer that does not respond to the full depth of a question. And yet, like the Old Testament figure Job in front of his friends, we still desire answers.
What I have found most striking in front of both of these experiences, the wonder of the eclipse and the devastation of Harvey, is that in these moments reality invites us to move out of ourselves. When we are truly amazed by something, we actually forget ourselves, plunged into the beauty of the object. I think of the childlike glee of my friends from Sri Lanka seeing snow for the first time, an amazement that is apparent and infectious. And in the wake of Harvey’s destruction, so many people have already made sacrifices to send aid or volunteer, so often for people they don’t know but are still moved by the obvious need.
This is the connective thread that in the impact with nature, the impact with reality, we are invited out of ourselves, to be moved, in wonder or in service. This is the invitation of God who meets us through our circumstances, to go out and experience the beauty of His creation, or to participate in His love by serving my brothers and sisters in need. To be faithful to our humanity in these days is to follow this invitation out of ourselves, to be amazed and to serve.
Branson Hipp is a priest of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and is currently serving as the parochial vicar for Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Flowery Branch.