Q & R: You keep throwing in zingers! God and beauty?

Here’s the Q:

Dear Mr. McLaren: I am lay person studying your book Naked Spirituality.  Every once in a while you throw in a zinger that I can’t make the leap to understanding. For example Chapter 12 – put beauty, diversity, complexity, and harmonious interdependence together and have something close to biblical  concepts of glory & shalom. Glory and shalom how does that relate to the first part of the sentence? Please unpackage.  I hope you or someone responds to my question. Thanks for writing this great book.

Here’s the R:

Thanks for your question. Glory as it refers to God, as I have come to understand it, means a radiant, weighty, substantial beauty. (The word for glory in Hebrew is related to weightiness or substance, and the imagery in Scripture is often associated with radiance.)


And shalom or peace means harmony in the presence of difference, or difference in the presence of harmony. If there’s no difference, then harmony would be meaningless, just as one note without another can’t produce harmony in music.


I was recently reminded of some words of St. Augustine in Confessions (Book X, 27) where he works with this very imagery.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

His name for God is “O Beauty,” which is lovely and meaningful in itself and worthy of some deep meditation. In the diverse and manifold sounds, lights, colors, fragrances, and tastes of creation, Augustine came recognize that he was encountering the glory and peace of God.

Augustine’s words have been especially meaningful for me because I’ve been writing a book on the Galapagos Islands that will come out later in 2019. I hope you’ll enjoy it – it would be a great companion volume to Naked Spirituality.