I was halfway up from the Ogwen Valley towards Cwm Lloer before I stopped to look back at Tryfan and the Glyders. My vantage point gave me a clear view across the valley to where the low winter’s sun was barely rising above the 3,000-foot heights of Glyder Fach and Tryfan. I gasped as I watched the sun begin to crown Tryfan and its bronze rays to filter around its countours stretching down towards the deep blue waters of Llyn Ogwen. It was a view I’ll not soon forget. I stood there for several minutes, my attention fixed with delight.
I’ve been blessed with many such moments. It’s one of the benefits of spending as much time as I do in the outdoors. Light always seems to be a vital element. My memory of Tryfan is matched by a stunning sunset in the Blue Ridge Mountains that painted the air beneath a carpet of clouds a fiery gold, but also by a walk through the English countryside when a ray of light pierced dark, foreboding clouds to pick out a small village from the surrounding gloom, and a spectacular morning spent sitting outside my tent watching the sun rise above Geirangerfjord. I’ve previously written about other encounters on Cadair Idris in Wales and on the Laugavegur Trail in Wales. To taste moments of such delight is the reason why I walk.
Delight: it’s an idea that has consumed me now for more than 10 years. My first encounter with natural delight — during a walk in Ivestor Gap in the Shining Rock Wilderness — changed my life. Because of that experience, I ended up leaving my parish ministry in North Carolina to move to the United Kingdom. Since then, I’ve gone out into wildernesses and the countryside with increasing regularity, spending as much time as I responsibly can soaking in the natural world and learning how to delight. If the good Lord should choose to save me, then he will have done so through delight.
People often ask me what I mean by delight. For me, to delight means to enjoy something for its own sake. To take pleasure in something without expectation, without demand, without requirements, is one of the noblest of sentiments. Such delight involves a kind of communion with the other; it requires a degree of love to be attentive and appreciative. Augustine claimed that we “love only what delights us” (Sermon 159). While I’m not convinced he’s right — Aren’t we called to love even those who aren’t delightful? — I do believe that the reverse is true: we normally only delight in that which evokes our love. Delight acts upon us, draws us towards the delightful, and in so doing expands our hearts and possibly even our imaginations.
Augustine and a great company of medieval theologians held that God wove his own delight into the very fabric of creation. We probably think of such created delight in terms of beauty — and that is how I normally encounter it during my treks — but it also manifests itself as truth and goodness. I think it also takes the human shape of friendship and hospitality: to delight in others simply for who they are must be one of the highest compliments we can pay. Augustine and many medieval theologians also believed that the reason why God wove delight into creation is that he is himself the source of all delight. To experience delight therefore is to experience God himself, to taste his sweetness, to enjoy in some fleeting way what awaits the faithful in heaven when they enjoy the Beatific Vision.
Because it involves enjoying the other for its own sake, delight stands in sharp contrast to our age. From our earliest years, we’re taught to squeeze every last drop of juice out of life. We demand others do things for us; we demand that the world provide us with every means for pursuing the happiness to which we’re entitled. Our ad-saturated world constantly whispers in our ears that there is a veritable cornucopia of goods and services that we can enjoy for our own sake. And what is entertainment — especially in its contemporary, stimulating, and titillating mode — but enjoying others for our own sake? There’s a world of difference between delighting in someone and being entertained by them.
What are your delights? Who do you enjoy for their own sake? What things do you enjoy for their own sake? How much do you delight in God for his own sake? These are important questions to ask ourselves in our self-examination and moral reflection. I suppose it’s also well for us to ask the harder question of what we can do to be more delightful to others. More to the point: How can we be more delightful to God?
While the idea of delight is never far from my mind, Easter especially gets me ruminating about it. I imagine Christ’s rising from the tomb included releasing delight from the clutches of its enemies: fear, hate, and death. There is within the Christian tradition an implicit link between life and delight: to be delightful is to flourish in the goodness and abundance of life. Easter quite simply gives us permission and the capacity to share in God’s delight. God’s grace seeks to orient us towards his delight like a mirror shifted to catch the rays of the sun. We are to glimmer with such divine delight that our mere presence dispels darkness and chases away the diabolical spirits of fear and hatred. To delight fully in the other is to be like the God who delights fully in us. What more moving sign of Easter can there be than that?
“Delight yourself in the Lord; and he will give you your heart’s desire,” promises the poet of Psalm 37. Sounds simple. But I suspect most of us find that harder than we care to admit. Perhaps, then, we need to start with the small things, like a sun setting behind Tryfan or the scent of wildflowers in a late spring meadow or the sound of a small child’s laughter. Bonaventure believed that God has given us a ladder of delights that leads up to him who is “primordial delight.” A sunset or a child’s laughter may be low rungs on that ladder. All the same, they’re steps in the right direction.
So, delight. Enjoy God, others, and his world for their own sake. And then see where that delight — God’s delight — takes you.