Regarding Grandeur

We visited the Grand Canyon today. It was a first for me. I expected it to be impressive. I’ve seen the pictures. I know of the brilliant quotes from the Teddy Roosevelts and John Muirs of the world who were moved to poetry by the canyon vistas. I know of the writers, painters, and photographers whose work was informed and inspired by this place. 

I knew all this, and I was still blown away when I, with my wife and son, rounded a corner and found myself staring off the edge of the world at a scene of a thousand colors. The immensity and beauty of the place is overwhelming.

I know that in the grand scheme of things the Grand Canyon is not that big. It is a scratch on a rock hurtling through space. A stream of water flowing across North America began plowing a path through the sand, eventually waring into the rock below, and kept going for a few million years, creating this scene in front of me. 
How is it that something that came about so simply could evoke such deep emotion? People of different cultures have been coming here for centuries, and being moved by what they see. The Canyon figured prominently in the beliefs of Native people groups who lived (and still live) here. I heard at least a dozen languages being spoken by fellow tourists today. People come from all over the world to experience this place. 

These feelings of awe triggered by witnessing the beauty of nature play a large role in the structure of my beliefs. These feelings, among other things, tell me that I am more than a mere physical being. There is a spiritual dimension to reality that is inescapable. C.S. Lewis said it brilliantly:

“We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words-to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.

That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves-that, though we cannot, yet these projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty grace, and power of which Nature is the image. That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that ‘beauty born of murmuring sound’ will pass into a human face; but it won’t. Or not yet.

For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy.

At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get in.”

-C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: HarperCollins, 1949/2001), 42-3.

So I liked the Grand Canyon. You should go!


3 thoughts on “Regarding Grandeur

  1. Susanna Rasmussen Brown says:

    Well, my son, I am nearly speechless. I could not tell you ahead of time of the amazing beauty, and I hardly have the words to respond to this very beautiful piece you have written. I saw it with people from another country, 36 years ago. That made it very special–we had already seen the fall colors in the Boston area and across upstate New York. We had seen Niagra Falls. We had seen New York, Boston, and Chicago. We had seen the Rockies from Denver to southern Colorado, including Pikes Peak. Then we got to the Grand Canyon. We were all pretty speechless, and even after seeing more man made and natural beautiful things in California, it was still a unanimous view that the Grand Canyon was by far the best and most beautiful. Whenever I think of it, I have a deep feeling of beauty inside. I have never tried to describe it to anyone, but I often tell people what you concluded: If someone can, they should go.


  2. Bettie says:

    The sections we visited a couple of years ago left me speechless. I wished that every American could also have that experience. You’ve expressed our sentiments as well. Thank you.


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