“Divine Design”

Walking in the woods or along the beach at any season reveals an endless variety of forms. Nature is full of delicate colors and intricate shapes – the mosaic of a butterfly’s wing, the coordinated movements of a flock of birds or school of fish, the patterns of seashells, the architecture and symmetry of a beehive.

These patterns in nature captivate the naturalist and photographer in me. To those with an inquisitive mind, not content to just gaze in wonder, nature’s complex patterns may provide the added appeal of mystery surrounding artistry.

“And while I stood there
I saw more than I can tell,
and I understood more than I saw;
for I was seeing in a sacred manner
the shapes of things in the spirit,
and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.”
Native American, Black Elk

Vicki left that quote on the comments to this post a while back. Also in the comments to that post, my brother Kevin made reference to the idea of the divine in nature which he reminds himself of by displaying a few found objects from nature on the shelf in his cubicle. He sees similarities in all apects of nature’s design and believes that if you can’t find God in a pinecone, you won’t be finding Him in church.

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A co-worker of mine also likes to display found objects from nature in her cubicle. She is a budding naturalist (whether she knows it or not, Linda!) and rather than seeking the divine in nature, I think the variety of colors and textures are what most appeal to her. Linda is the Martha Stewart in our department, and generally serves as cruise ship director and party planner. She’s good at what she does. She loves baking and interior decorating. She’s also a bit…. I would call her ditzy, but that might sound mean… let’s say instead that she is easily distracted. Vicki did a post about a particular food channel celebrity which contained a description that I think is hilarious and that I like to apply to Linda when her social tendencies are particularly annoying to me on a Monday morning – Linda prides herself on her advanced degree in tablescape architecture. (You’ll just have to go and read Vicki’s post before you’ll understand the referencego ahead, I’ll wait ’til you’re back).

So the other day I picked up the pinecone you see above from Linda’s cubicle-top menagerie. Turning it over and round and round in my hand I noticed the pattern and turned to Kathy, who God-Bless-Her-Sits-Next-to-Linda, and remarked that it looked to me as if someone had actually taken a sharpie marker and drawn the design you see on each of the scales. Linda was only half-listening at this point, which is her usual state with any conversation. Kathy wondered aloud that anyone would go to the trouble to do this and I said that I thought that, yes, someone had actually gone to the trouble to design it that way. “Really?” Kathy asked. (Kathy and I talk this way all the time – on the surface very mundane, but we both know what we’re really discussing). “Sure,” I told her, “that’s divine design at work”.

At that, Linda’s ears perked up.

“I love Divine Design! Candice Olsen is my absolute favorite! Her designs are so innovative and inspiring. Did you see the last episode when…”

Linda. Gotta love her.

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If we keep our minds and hearts open to it, nature’s creations may delight the imagination and challlenge our understanding of the world around us. How do these patterns develop? What rules or guidelines shape the world we live in?

What draws you to nature – the mystery or the artistry?

17 thoughts on ““Divine Design””

  1. “if you can’t find God in a pinecone, you won’t be finding Him in church.”
    Couldn’t say it better myself.
    Anyone who totes a camera everywhere is looking for the artistry in nature. Perhaps the poets look more at the mysterious.
    Linda…there is one in every workplace, outrageous but full of life. Wouldn’t it be sad if we were all the same?

  2. We need Linda during our working hours. In my workplace, I am Linda but few appreciate it. I think the artistry draws me to nature more than mystery. Nature is a sight for sore eyes. Thank you, Laura! This was an enjoyable read!

  3. It’s the combination that is so intriguing to me. I gave Abby a book for Christmas: The Divine Proportion; Phi in Art, Nature and Science. You would love the illustration and photos in this book!

    When my life is frazzled and going in all directions, I find it very calming to turn a feather or a shell in my hand and see the beautiful symmetry.

    With Linda, you need less coffee. That’s a good thing.

  4. What a great post. It really made me think.

    I have to say that I appreciate the mystery of nature, but the artistry is what draws me to it.

  5. Definitely the artistry, as I know it’s divinely created, and that makes me feel so small in the scheme of things, which in turn, makes all my “worldly problems” seem small as well. It gives me peace…

  6. Hey! I love Divine Design too! 🙂

    Oh, the answer to your question is the mysterious artistry or wait the artistic mystery.

    You can’t expect me to answer seriously when you had me go read the post about Sandra Lee do you? I laughed so hard my husband thought something was wrong.

    But, seriously, I do enjoy Divine Design!

  7. A lot of the design is just mathematics, repeated patterns, etc.
    The end result is often beautiful even if the function might be brutal … an example might be raptors… the very aspects that make them “beautiful” to humans are those things that make them such efficient killing machines.

    For me, it’s both artistry and mystery, but mainly it’s admiration of behaviors and structures that seem so well honed for survival in a very violent natural world.

  8. I’m not religious and don’t see divinity in nature, but perhaps that’s what makes it all the more compelling for me. I look around and see the splendid results of the universe’s toiling, predictable yet profound activities spanning times and distances we can’t imagine, and it captivates me such that I’m overwhelmed most of the time, brought to tears all too often by the most mundane things. I’m captivated by the mystery of constant discovery, the artistry of nature’s simple yet complex processes that put it all together, and the beauty inherent in both. Maybe it’s just that I think it’s far too magnificent to be limited by the divine, especially when one looks out across the cosmos and realizes we haven’t scratched the surface of what’s out there.

    And that story about Linda is absolutely hysterical! It tickled me ever so much.

  9. What a thought provoking question! The artistry in nature can sometimes bring me to tears. I believe in my soul that it is all divinely made.

  10. Pablo: Was there supposed to be a point?


    Thanks for your (somewhat not snarky) comment. 😉

    Ruth: I don’t know that it’s obvious, but Linda is a dear friend. I just like to poke fun at her.

    Mary: I’m glad to know that every office has a Linda – and that you’re her! She is a character!

    Vicki: I found a few websites yesterday that talked about *the divine proportion* in nature – interesting stuff! A bit too much math for me to understand properly.

    Laurie: I would agree, but every so often I stop and ask myself – why?

    Jayne: I think there is an important lesson in that *feeling small* or at least I feel like it’s important to feel like we are a part of nature, rather than separate from it.

    kgmom: I was going to use the word *majesty* instead of artistry.

    Liza: That post of Vicki’s was so funny! Honestyly, I was looking for serious answers here – just sort of throwing an idea out for discussion. (You’re a teacher – you understand that!) At least here I get more than blank faces staring back at me!

    FC: I hear the science teacher in you talking there. I was really hesitant to put that *divine design* title on this post, for fear that it would scare folks away, but it was just too much of a funny coincidence for me to resist.

    I wonder sometimes why I’m so taken with raptors, rather than the sweet, pretty birds, but think it must have to do with the very things you’ve mentioned – the way that they’ve come to survive and prosper in an inhispitable world.

    Jason: Hi! I’ve been meaning to stop by your site and thank you for the link to Good Planets each week. Thanks for taking the time to comment here today.

    I don’t think I meant this to be so much a *religious* post, as a spiritual one – if that makes sense. And of course I like the chance to poke fun at my friend Linda.

    Lynne: Did I scare folks away with this post or what? Didn’t mean for it to be that way. I like to throw an idea out there once in a while and see what you all do with it.

    I think sometimes, where there is beauty in nature, for no other reason than the wonder of it, that it must be divine.

  11. Not scared away

    For me the beauty in nature is breathtaking and often I have to just stop and catch my breath when I look at it.

    I am not religious but I do often look at the stunning beauty as evidence that there is more going on behind the scenes than we understand.

    And, I’m very grateful for that!

  12. Hi Laura. Great post. Right up my alley.

    Anyway, I found it very interesting that a couple of your “posters” mentioned that they were intrigued and were compelled by the designs found in nature. Intrigued to such an extent that they were brought to tears. Awesome. They also mentioned that they were not “religious”. That kind of confused me.

    I think maybe they are mixing the term “religious” with the meaning of “religion” in the traditional sense of the word. A great many people feel that being “religious” means attending church and buying in to all the things that go along with that particular “religion”. I disagree. At least not for me. I buy in to some of the “religion” things and find it helpful and important to participate with those traditional rituals that make you a “insert name of religion here“. It has a place for many people.

    Based on their overwhelming reactions to discovering the artistry and underlying mathematical principle behind the formation of the natural object that they are looking at, it is clear to me that they have indeed had a “religious” experience in the “true” sense of the word. An experience that transcends “religion” and gets back to the basics of wonder and awe at the “beautiful proportions of this vast machine”.

    An interesting sideline to the “golden mean” (phi)discussion is that the principles of design are not only found in the construction of natural objects (pine cones, flowers, sea shells, nebula, the human body), but are also easily seen in music (chords and harmonies), color (complementary colors, harmonies) and who knows where else. This opens up a whole new area for discovery.

  13. Kevin: Do you have ANY idea how much you write like dad?

    I found a neat website with photos that illustrate the golden mean – will send it along.

    Thanks! Get going on that blog of yours!

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