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December 8, 2014
Faith and Science
For the Beauty
by Ami Chopine

In church this past week, our choir sang “For the Beauty of the Earth”. It is a simple song with no other goal than to express gratitude to God. It is our prayers put to music, allowing us to more fully express our emotion and sincerity.

An emphasis in volume, tone, or harmony adds layers to the communication. Music exalts our words.

A contemplation of the song begs the question: what is beauty?

My cousin and I sat in the car yesterday in fervent conversation. Though from Utah, she currently lives in Texas. We faced the Wasatch Range during sunset. The last pink light of illumination rose up the sides of the snow-laced peaks. I’m not sure one could ask for a better view to have conversations of the soul.

She exclaimed at the magnificence of the mountains, and I agreed. They are always spectacular.

In our modern age, we know that the mountains are the result of tectonic forces in some form or another. We know they carry on them the history of epochs before human history. But even without that knowledge, they seem to proclaim themselves to be the temple of God. Indeed, they have been used that way.

Why do they strike us with awe?

I’m not sure that scientific observation can answer that question. True, there appears to be a place in the brain that can appreciate beauty, and it appears to be associated with the same impulses that govern disgust or pain. In these terms, it seems to be the difference between what is bad for us and what is good for us.

Except that going up in the mountains is bad for us. We don’t survive easily there. And what of the beauty in math?

An appreciation of an object or concept that can have no real benefit to our “evolutionary” fitness seems to suggest that beauty is more than what is good for our bodies. It is good for our spirit.

This apprehension of beauty is a first step towards gratitude, much as sorrow for our actions that have caused harm is a first step towards repentance. Both are experiences that lead us towards Christ, whether we know of the Savior or not, for all that is good leads us closer to him.

Gratitude is a “clinically proven” approach to life. (Emmons & McCollough, 2003 It is not surprising, then, that we are commanded to be grateful, since God gives us no commandment except it has benefit for us as individuals and/or community.

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

What’s more, as we study the scriptures, we learn that obeying this commandment brings us countless blessings.

And inasmuch as ye do these things with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances, not with much laughter, for this is sin, but with a glad heart and a cheerful countenance—

Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours… (D&C 59:15-16)

And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more. (D&C 78:19)

For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving. (1st Timothy 4:4)

True gratitude is recursive.

How often have we been taught, or have heard or experienced that when we start listing blessings to be grateful for, we inevitably find more to be grateful for?

Beauty is just the first step. It is when we attribute the experience of beauty to our Parents in Heaven and to Jesus Christ (or to however someone understands Them) that we experience gratitude. When we look up in such a manner, they reveal unto us more beauty, thus allowing us to be blessed and feel more gratitude.

Both the prophets and science teaches us that even when life is sparse and difficult, gratitude can lift our burdens. Beauty brings us peace and joy. When we are engaged in the circle of gratitude, then we have used up all our brain’s processing power in a positive pursuit.

And so, I will call up a recursive function: I am grateful for gratitude. It leads me to more beauty, which expands my understanding. What an amazing experience this mortality is.

For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,

For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flow'r,
Sun and moon, and stars of light,

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild,

Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

Text: Folliott S. Pierpoint, 1835-1917
Music: Conrad Kocher, 1786-1872

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