And when some of them were talking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive offerings, he said: “These things you are looking at—days will come when there will not be left a stone upon a stone that will not be torn down.”
Luke 21: 5-6
And another angel, one who has authority over fire, came out from the altar, and he called to the one who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Put in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of God’s wrath.
Rev. 14: 18-19
There is perhaps no way we more resemble the One in whose likeness and image we are made than in our capacity to create and express beauty. I can never forget the first time I rode the train from Paris to Chartres and saw the majestic Cathedral, the work of late 12th and early 13th century artisans, rising out of the surrounding farmland, or the soaring of my heart as I was swept up by the heavenward projection of the Cologne Cathedral, or the overpowering awe as I first approached the perfection of Michelangelo’s David. This same humanization of the world occurs each time we create beautiful and congenial living and work spaces, or take pains to set a beautiful and hospitable table for our dinner guests. It is by taking care to enflesh our very spirits in the works of our hands that we bring our human, and its sharing in the Divine, spirit into the world, that we know the deeper possibilities of human life.
Even more than the work of our hands, it is the life and presence of beloved others that is the light and salt of our lives. Despite the vicissitudes of human relationship, we count on the presence of those whom we love and who love us to give life and light to our days. In our typical modes of consciousness, we live most days in the illusion that these loved ones and the works of our hands are permanent.
In this light today’s scriptural message is a difficult one. Jesus, ever the teacher and prophet in Luke’s gospel, reminds those who stand in awe before the beauty of the temple that it is the very nature of God’s judgment that there will come a time when “there will not be left a stone upon a stone.” The reality of impermanence, that all we make and all we love will pass, is a “tragedy” for us. As we anthropomorphize God, we experience this finitude of human reality as “God’s wrath.” Perhaps, however, the judgment of God is not wrathful but rather just, that is, “just” the way things are. Perhaps the ways we are awestruck by the beauty we create is but a dim reflection of the awe we can know in the awareness of God’s ways and God’s creation, the Divine self-giving that enables generation after generation to make our temporary and passing mark. Perhaps the love we grasp in the vulnerability and fragility of our relationships is but an intimation of the communion we live that is not bound by sickness, diminishment, and death. Is it possible that the “wrath” and “judgment” of God is a judgment of our ways of judging, of knowing, of expecting? Is what we call judgment an “invitation” to come to know the eternal life” to which each of our passing moments point?
But what do I love, when I love Thee? not beauty of bodies, nor the fair harmony of time, nor the brightness of the light, so gladsome to our eyes, nor sweet melodies of varied songs, nor the fragrant smell of flowers, and ointments, and spices, not manna and honey, not limbs acceptable to embracements of flesh. None of these I love, when I love my God; and yet I love a kind of light, and melody, and fragrance, and meat, and embracement when I love my God, the light, melody, fragrance, meat, embracement of my inner man: where there shineth unto my soul what space cannot contain, and there soundeth what time beareth not away, and there smelleth what breathing disperseth not, and there tasteth what eating diminisheth not, and there clingeth what satiety divorceth not. This is it which I love when I love my God.
And what is this? I asked the earth, and it answered me, “I am not He”; and whatsoever are in it confessed the same. I asked the sea and the deeps, and the living creeping things, and they answered, “We are not thy God, seek above us.” I asked the moving air; and the whole air with his inhabitants answered, “Anaximenes was deceived, I am not God. ” I asked the heavens, sun, moon, stars, “Nor (say they) are we the God whom thou seekest.” And I replied unto all the things which encompass the door of my flesh: “Ye have told me of my God, that ye are not He; tell me something of Him.” And they cried out with a loud voice, “He made us. ” My questioning them, was my thoughts on them: and their form of beauty gave the answer. And I turned myself unto myself, and said to myself, “Who art thou?” And I answered, “A man.” And behold, in me there present themselves to me soul, and body, one without, the other within. By which of these ought I to seek my God? I had sought Him in the body from earth to heaven, so far as I could send messengers, the beams of mine eyes. But the better is the inner, for to it as presiding and judging, all the bodily messengers reported the answers of heaven and earth, and all things therein, who said, “We are not God, but He made us.” These things did my inner man know by the ministry of the outer: I the inner knew them; I, the mind, through the senses of my body. I asked the whole frame of the world about my God; and it answered me, “I am not He, but He made me.
St. Augustine, Confessions, Book X