On more than one occasion I’ve heard my friend and fellow photographer Slavomir remark, “It was so beautiful it made my heart hurt!”
I’ve never needed him to explain what he meant, because I’ve felt that strange mix of emotion before when confronted with the beauty of creation. But it’s not a predictable experience. It does not always happen at the expected times nor in the most obvious scenic locations. Sometimes this heartache of beauty sneeks up on me.
Such was the case earlier this month as I scouted for photographic compositions in late autumn in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Seeking a respite from crowds and cars clogging the main viewpoints, I found myself in a quieter section of the park tooling around on backroads.
As I navigated the narrow winding road in my truck, ascending higher and higher into the hills, solitude soon overtook me as no other humans or vehicles were in sight. It became just me and the hardwood forest, the trees surrendering their leaves to the swirling breeze, low-angle sunlight filtering into the canopy, a cloud-dotted blue sky watching over it all.
In this moment my heart started to feel the tug of beauty all around me. Thoughts of making photographs disappeared as I was immersed in the experience of just being there. Then my eyes welled up with tears as I felt the swelling of an ache in my heart. Amid the splendor of this autumn forest, all alone, there was a kind of hurting in the deep places of my soul.
“What am I feeling?” I asked myself. “What is this emotion that my intellect cannot decipher?” Continuing to drive slowly through the curves with my windows down, intoxicated with autumn aromas, I realized there was a bittersweet yearning in my innermost being. A yearning for this moment to never end. A yearning to be at one with this place, with this simple beauty before me, to somehow meld with the creation. And the tears started flowing.
I believe this was my soul crying out for more of God. A longing to be free from the fallenness of our world. A craving to be perfectly at one with his glory. To be for all eternity in a place of neverending joy, my field of vision filled with only beauty, being carried by the power of his divine love.
I’m grateful for the glimpses of grace I see in those moments of beauty. And I’m also grateful for the heartache that sometimes settles over me at those times. The one reminds me that the glory of the creator is my one true joy, my very sustenance. The other reminds me that broken earth is not my true home, that I am merely journeying toward the hope of eternity, a day when the One who formed me will remove all the heartaches forever.
“while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day
when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.”
(Titus 2:13 NLT)