There is a large park in which I like to hike within the city where I live. The park becomes less and less wild as the city closes in and the ecosystem changes, but a few years ago I had the good fortune of watching a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks raise a baby.
Each day I would walk near enough to the nest to see a little of what was going on and notice how much the baby was growing. It began as a yellow ball of fluff. Later it started shedding the fluff as mature feathers took its place. I missed some of the baby’s growing up by a couple of weeks because I had to travel out of town on business. When I took up my hiking again, I discovered the baby was now close to being a full-grown bird. What amazed me was that this cute ball of fluff now had a fierce-looking hooked bill and commanding eyes. It was a stunning creature. And this raptor was ready to hunt and catch prey and join its parents’ pattern of living off rabbits, mice, and other small animals in the park.
I often think of this experience when I walk in nature. It has awe-inspiring beauty—and yet its very life is founded upon the eat-or-be-eaten cycle of nature’s “bloody tooth and claw.” Fundamentally, this is a world of wildness, suffering, and sacrifice. “God suffers in every painful part of the process,” writes Belden Lane in his book Ravished by Beauty. “The giving and taking of life thus becomes a Eucharistic reality, understood only in God’s remarkable choice of defenselessness in the Paschal mystery.”
For me, the sacrifice of Jesus interprets the ferocious wildness of this world. This is a place of astonishing beauty, but it is also a place of suffering and self-giving sacrifice. Somehow in the economy of God, beauty and self-sacrifice are the same. I must join this painful process if I am to truly live in the reality of God’s kingdom.
Do you think of both sides of the experience of nature—its beauty and its ferocity?
Are you able to reconcile them in the Redemption?
Don Simpson is a certified spiritual director in Colorado Springs and is senior editor at NavPress. He is coauthor with Dallas Willard of Revolution of Character (NavPress, 2005). He also participated in launching Discipleship Journal and The Small Group Letter, and was cofounder of Helmers & Howard, Publishers.