While doing some advance planning for a summer vacation I came across some Yelp reviews of America’s National Parks. Charge me with an “OK Boomer” offense, but I struggle with the idea of reviewing natural wonders on Yelp.
“Don’t waste your time!! I paid $20.00 for nothing but nasty rock and salt.”
“I have to say, this is the ugliest place I have ever seen.”
“SNORE. Once you’ve taken a good long look at the lake (10 min) and snapped a few photos, you’re done. You can peruse the gift shop for some Oregon souvenirs but really, that’s it.”
“Badlands is basically washed out hills of 50,000 year old mud. You have vast grasslands on one side, and old mud on the other. And the mud wasn’t even different colored layers or have any other redeeming qualities. It was brown.”
“Scenery is grand and huge and up in the air and distant and impersonal. I got bored fast.”
Summit of Haleakala, Hawaii
“Do yourself a favor and Google ‘pretty sunrise’ and save yourself the disappointment.”
We are increasingly trained to judge and rate everything. Further, the internet and social media have flattened the structures of social intercourse so that every voice is heard equally. These reviews remind me of the woman at the Louvre muttering, “I don’t know what’s so great about all this.” And the docent who overheard her and remarked, “Madam, the masterpieces here are not up for evaluation. You are.”
It’s one thing to give a restaurant or a movie a snarky review. Human efforts always come up short. But to post reviews of nature, God’s handiwork, is absurd.
The aim of any spiritual life is to find amazement in the most ordinary features of nature, of life. To see, as did William Blake, “a World in a Grain of Sand/ And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,/ Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/ And Eternity in an hour.” But these Yelpers actually reverse the epiphany. They take the patently awesome and twist it successfully into a massive disappointment.
In his classic Will and Spirit, Gerald May urges us to drop our willfulness, the bending of everything to our own egoic tantrum. We must instead, he says, cultivate willingness, surrender. What we accede to is simply the shape and nature of reality, the beautiful and the terrible, trusting that some infinite power is in charge of life, and we, finite and blind, are not.
We have to laugh at the Yelpers but they are only writing large what we are all thinking: “Why couldn’t an all-powerful God create a better world than this?
Living as I do now in the Grand Canyon state, this tickled me. We’ve been to see this wonder. We took a copter ride, soaring above it all and then diving down into it. And still we couldn’t grasp the vastness, the magnificence of it.
I love the premise of your piece, Yelping God, the absurdity of it. I think he’s amused. “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh, the LORD shall have them in derision.”
On the other hand, maybe he’s also saying, “Hey, if you think you can do it better, be my guest. After all, I was in a rush; I had to do it all in just six days.”
David Anderson says
I hope he’s amused. But I like that—If you you think you can do better—have at it!
Michael Moore says
Another brilliant essay, David! I have hiked in every place you referenced except the one in Hawaii. And in every one, I felt humbled, inspired and grateful. And so did all the friends who came with me. But then, benighted Boomers that we were, we made those treks to experience something bigger than ourselves. Perhaps it’s just my aging memory, but I don’t recall anyone taking selfies.
Michael Moore says
But are we sure that those snarky one-star reviews came from young people? These days I encounter a lot of older white males who seem bitter about not being recognized as the center of the universe anymore. But perhaps they only post on Facebook, not Yelp.
David Anderson says
Quite right—entitlement knows no age limit.
VIRGINIA H. LOVAS says
Have been to most of these National Parks, and my response to them was – how awesome God is.
Now that I am facing a great loss ( to our family, at least) of a wonderful cat, I know that he is in loving hands. A God that could create so much beauty, and care so much as to send his only begotten Son to us, will now provide great care for the one we are losing who brought us such great joy over the last 13 years.
Darn, but is is hard!
Johnna L Fredrickson says
William Blake had it right. It isn’t so much the view as the eyes that take it in. How awful an inner life must one have to be blind to what is truly magnificent?Peace, Johnna
Ann Koberna says
You were correct in calling us “blind”. God is visible everywhere and yet much of the time I only “see” what I am looking for. I thank God for enabling the blind to truly see.
Patty Bach says
Oh I did laugh when I read some of the reviews you included – the reviews are ridiculous. I can see a comedian reading them on late night TV.
I feel sorry for the people who could look upon such treasures and feel small and unhappy – cheated even – instead of soaking in the wonder.
I don’t think God is laughing at the reviews. While the reviews are detailed, I do not think they are really about the places but about the person and where they are on their spiritual journey. I believe God prays for their growth and that they open their hearts to the wonder of the world around them.