There is a story about a traveler hiking his way through the Alps. He was following steep trails that hung on the side of the mountains, often with fearful drops on both sides, trails that were strenuous even for the youngest, most fit hiker.
Along one of these trails the hiker overtook an old priest who was struggling, best he could, over the rocks, snow, and ice. Shocked as he was to find an aged man on the trail, the younger man jettisoned his manners and immediately asked, “What is an old man like you doing in a place like this?”
The old man answered, “My son, I am seeking the beauty of God’s world.” The traveler, again forgetting to be tactful, asked, “Well, haven’t you waited a bit late in life for such a venture as this one?”
The old priest, needing to catch his breath, invited the young man to stop for a story. Then he said, “I lived most of my life in a monastery. It was a worthy vocation, yet I rarely left the seclusion of my cloister. There was so much of the world I never experienced. It happened, not long ago, that I fell seriously ill, so much so that I knew I was dying.
“I swear to you that an angel came to my room and stood at my bedside. ‘Why have you come?’ I asked the angel. And the angel answered, ‘To lead you to heaven.’ So I asked the angel a second question: ‘Is it a very beautiful world to which I am going?’ And the angel answered, ‘Child, it is a very beautiful world you are leaving.’
“And then,” the old man said, “I realized I had neglected the beauty of the world God has made here! I said to the angel, ‘But I have seen so very little of the beauty of this’ And he answered me, ‘Then I am afraid you will see very little beauty in the world to which you are going.’
“So it was that I begged the angel to allow me to stay in this world a little longer. My request was answered, and I am spending what little resources I have, and what little time I have left exploring the beauty of God’s world.”
“God saw all that he had made,” the creation story goes, “and it was all very good.” We should feel the same way, appreciating and enjoying God’s beautiful creation with all the gusto we can muster. As biologist E.O. Wilson has so eloquently said, “It is not the nature of human beings to be cattle in glorified feedlots. Get out and explore and enjoy the wonder of it all.”
Amen! How could we ever enjoy a better world “just over in the glory land,” when we haven’t soaked up a bit of the glory that God has given us here? For “wonderful are the works of the Lord,” and in the “perfection of beauty, God always shines forth.”