One thing I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life
to behold the beauty of the LORD
and to inquire in his temple.
It does not surprise me to read that the “Sweet Singer of Israel”, David, devoted his life to beholding “the beauty of the LORD”. One need only sing or read any of David’s many poems or songs and see that David was fixated on beauty. David savored and sang the beauty of the God he saw in the sky over his head, the changing of the seasons, the beasts of the field, and human love. Like the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, he saw the whole world “charged with the grandeur of God”.
David was an artist who established the music and worship for the people of God. He provided for “singers to play on musical instruments, on harps, lyres, and cymbals, to raise loud sounds of joy”, and danced exuberantly at the return of the Ark of the Covenant (I Chronicles 15). He cared about beauty.
As I reflect on today’s Scripture text I am reminded of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s lecture upon being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Solzhenitsyn began by quoting the Russian Dostoevsky on how “Beauty will save the world”. He acknowledged that Dostoevsky’s phrase had puzzled him for some time before coming to believe that he was right. He believed that beauty would save the world.
Here are two eminent Russian novelists, rooted in the Christian faith, who knew personally the ugliness of imprisonment and tyranny, and yet extolled the redemptive power of beauty. I am reminded of Victor Frankl who said that one of the things that helped him survive the horrors of Auschwitz was focusing on the “beauty” of a fish head floating in the dirty water of his soup. Writing in Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl said that as a prisoner in a concentration camp he “experienced the beauty of art and nature as never before”.
I have often talked with people who transcended their darkest moment by beauty. It was the simple beauty of a flower in the mud; sunlight glistening on the snow; or listening to a harp being played in a hospice room. Beauty called them out of themselves to others, and became a bridge to God.
For thousands of years philosophers and theologians have discussed beauty, goodness, and truth (the “transcendentals”) and their relation to each other. Poet John Keats offered his explanation of it all: “’Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”.
I am not bright enough to trace out the relationships of beauty and truth, but I do know that our culture has stopped believing in truth. Like Pontius Pilate our world scoffs, “What is truth!” But through the beauty of God people can be drawn to Him.
H. Jackson Brown, Jr., writing in Life’s Little Instruction Book, encourages, “Always have something beautiful in sight, even if it’s just a daisy in a jelly glass.” I like that! Through the seasons of Thanksgiving and Advent try to keep something beautiful in sight, or sound. Look for God’s beauty in Handel’s Messiah; the beauty of a grandchild’s smile; the beauty of Christmas lights; the beauty of Canadian Geese flying in formation; the beauty of a handwritten card from a friend.
God delights in beauty, just look around. And God draws broken and despairing people to himself by beauty. So, whatever our circumstances, let’s be makers of beauty through the holidays as we behold and marvel at the sheer beauty of God.
Grace and peace,
P.S. I hope you’ll make your Advent a little more beautiful by daily reading and listening to the beauty of Handel’s Messiah. You will find daily reflections on both the text and music of Messiah on our website beginning Sunday, December 2 (see “Behold Your God!”).
photo by Rita Smith