Ferrari 458: a theological blog 11 – vi – 19
A theological blog 11 – vi – 19
I’m looking at a Ferrari 458. A new one costs around £200,000 so the likelihood I will ever own one is small. But I guess it’s worth the money it is so elegant and so beautiful. I feel a deep aesthetic pleasure, even a kind of profound joy that there should be such beautiful things in the world. It’s a bright yellow one, which puts me in mind of a field of buttercups I saw yesterday. A bunch of buttercups certainly isn’t going to cost £200,000 but in their way they are just as beautiful, indeed even more so. For glorious as the Ferrari is, its beauty is cold, metallic, whereas the buttercups are alive, changing, turning happily to the sun, proud of themselves, but in the case of the Ferrari the pride is all that of the manufacturers and the owners. The Ferrari doesn’t have a self, a soul. On the other hand, I feel obscurely that a buttercup has a kind of inwardness, a self, perhaps you could indeed call it a soul, its inscape Gerard Manley Hopkins would have said. It has to have its own pride because nobody’s ever going to say come and look at my buttercup, it cost £200,000: ‘Deals out that being indoors each one dwells: Selves – goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, Crying What I do is me: for that I came’ wrote Hopkins again in one of his supreme moments.
There is a kind of freshness about buttercups, a quality it shares with all natural things, ‘the dearest freshness living deep down things’ said Hopkins. It is always almost as if you are seeing buttercups for the first time when you see buttercups, the presence of something that is always new. I feel this a lot, and there are some natural things in which I feel it even more intensely. Birdsong is one of them. Birds singing in the spring fills my heart with a joy I cannot describe. It is interesting that science can give us such a complete account of why birds sing. A multitude of studies have found that they do it to attract mates and ward off competitors. No sentimental crooners they but ferocious defenders and aggressive warmongers. Indeed, it seems that some birds go on singing into late June in order to suborn females from their mates and to set up second families, the adulterous and devious little sods. Why then this extraordinary beauty and whence does it come? ‘And through the echoing timber thrush does so rinse and wring the ear it strikes like lightning to hear him sing’ wrote Hopkins. It isn’t as if their songs are particularly harmonious, blackbirds, you say, OK I’ll give you blackbirds, but mostly it’s just cheeps and whistles. ‘Teevio cheevio cheevio chee: O where, what can that be? Weedio –weedio: there again, so tiny a trickle of song-strain!’ Hopkins again. Not exactly Mozart is it? Yet these songs fill me with delight, as if they were the songs of the beginnings in Eden garden. Another vehicle of this presence, if I can call it that, is the sound soft waves make when they come lapping to the shore. Why does this noise give me such inordinate pleasure? It’s the tides, mate, the force of the waves is largely spent when they get as far as the shore so they don’t make much noise. Clear? Satisfied? Well no. There’s a presence, a kind of emotional cosmological constant beyond words, Conrad’s song of the universe, Beautiful? No, not like the Ferrari, just noise, but so full of the cosmological presence. I call it the Tremendousness.
I feel pretty sure that when I look at images of the prehistoric cave paintings that the artists felt this Tremendousness far more than I do, for in their time nature was unspoilt. They seem to have been quite religious in their attitudes too – a daft word surely to use in this context but how else to put it? – there is plenty of evidence that the caves were used for sacred ceremonies, and they can hardly have gone to the trouble of heaving up Stonehenge as a kind of civic meeting hall for whist drives and bingo. I don’t think they had this awareness of the sacred because they had been impressed by the ontological argument for the existence of God, nor the cosmological argument neither. It’s the presence. Once you feel this presence, this tremendousness, those kind of arguments seem irrelevant. Not to respond to it, not to feel the presence of some mystery below and beyond, not to believe in God – although that term has become so exhausted it has almost turned into the opposite of what it means – would be like refusing to believe that 2+2 = 4, or maintaining that the Niagara Falls ae no more impressive than water running out of a domestic tap. But doubtless there are plenty of 2 plus 2 equals fivers about. All I can say to them is chee cheevio cheevio weedio weedio. In or out of church? How much does it matter? O where, what can that be?