Thursday, March 18, 2010

Faithfully Attend the Church of Nature

I was listening to a program on architect Frank Lloyd Wright and there were snippets of an interview with him.  The questioner asked if the man was religious.  Yes, he said, he was very religious.  Which church do you attend?  I attend the church of nature, the great architect answered.

It never fails to surprise me how many people feel comfortable in the church of nature.  And why not?  The god whom they worship in nature is majestic, mysterious, mighty, and manifold in his expressions.... but he is also distant and inaccessible to us as people.  The god of nature is like the architect - a designer and builder whose great appeal is not the god but his work, his creation.  The god of nature is like the photographer or videographer who captures what he sees as an image but cannot unpack that image with any thing real that might touch or transform the watcher's life (except to be awed by its grandeur and perhaps wounded by its cruelty).

The god of nature is passive about people but active in the great woven fabric of flora and fauna.  He is like a painter who gives us a picture to behold but leaves us with the question "What does that picture tell us about the painter?"  As anyone who has taken an art appreciation course, there are no doctrinal answers to a question like this.  So the god of nature is not a god of truth or dogma but principles and expressions.

There is no surprise that the god of nature whom Darwin saw was a cruel god who saw the survival of the fittest, the tragedy of the death of the innocent and weak, and the triumph of the devious who learned from his mistakes.

But this is not who we are.  We do not learn from our mistakes but repeat them over and over and over again.  So what consolation can be derived from the god of nature except the comfort of knowing that this god will  not look over your shoulder, second guess your decisions, interfere with your choices, or hold you accountable at the end of it all.  Who would not want a god like this?  When we need him we trot him out as the god of answers (broad, general, but seldom personal).  When we want to worship (which, truth to be told, is not often -- unless we are worshiping self), we look out the window, or walk in the garden, or make our way through woods or meadow... or in the absence of this experience, we turn on the TV for a vicarious experience of the same.  When we want answers, he allows us to interpret him and he does not challenge our conclusions.

I once thought a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright's work.... over time I have gotten over it.  I have only one book on his architectural style... I have dozens on the great cathedrals and the great artists of Christendom -- just got a new one called The Bible in Pictures featuring the art of Lucas Cranach.  I may admire the god of nature, but nature's God is the one I need... living, active... the God of truth and power and might... the God who has a face in Jesus Christ, a message in the cross, and the power to redeem my own lost mess of a life lived in the shadow of death.   I don't need the god of nature.  I need nature's God and that God whose Word spoke and made all things is the God whose Word was incarnate of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit to be near me, to deliver me, to hold me accountable that He might redeem me, a lost and condemned creature.  The worship of this God happens not in nature's sanctuary but where the Word is proclaimed and the Sacraments administered and Pastor and people gather at its call to become what it names them.


Matt said...

I very much enjoyed T.C. Boyles fictionalized biography of Wright called "The Women."

Boyle depicts Wright as arrogant, deeply self-righteous, almost to the point of being a clown.

Meanwhile, the novel portrays Wright's series of stormy adulterous relationships, marriages and divorces.

It is a wonderful book, and one that acknowledges Wright's genius while describing his flaws. The "church of nature" comment seems to fit with his character. In fact, Wright was the high priest of the church of himself.

Janis Williams said...

Fr. Peters,

As a graduate in Art, Wright is only one oon of MANY who were/are or bordered on megalomania.

Only goes to prove our great God gifts even the worst of pagans/"high priest(s) of the church of..." themselves with the great talents necessary to imitate their Creator (Whom they refuse to acknowledge) in act.