One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord
And to meditate in His temple.
Some days are like that. Before church yesterday I spent a good hour staring at this picture:
I took it – it is the Deesis Mosaic of Christ in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The picture does not do the mosaic justice. Placed next to a window where the natural light changes constantly, the tiles of the mosaic are placed just so to catch that light in many different aspects, the piece is almost alive. They say no picture is good enough and I agree. While I am sure there are art critics that will disagree I find this the most beautiful image of anything I have ever seen. I can also hear any number of my Reformed brethren telling me of the evils of images. Until I saw the mosaic in this picture, I was also concerned about worshiping images instead of God whenever I was confronted with Christian imagery, but this image is transcendent. No, I do not believe it captures Christ in any manner – it is simply so beautiful that I felt for an instant as if I were the psalmist and my desire was fulfilled. Beauty matters.
Tomorrow marks the traditional kick-off of the presidential campaign, but it actually started right after the conventions. It’s been ugly and it is only going to get uglier. Ugliness seems to be the order of our day. My prayers of this weekend were filled with broken families and broken bones. As I reflected on the week just past, the rudenesses I endured far outweighed in both number and severity the kindnesses I so appreciated. I went to see the movie Florence Foster Jenkins this weekend. It is at heart a love story. But that love, while intense and supremely devoted, is so surrounded by and tainted with ugliness that one cannot truly embrace it. Thus I sought refuge in the most beautiful work of art I have ever seen.
It is this pervasive ugliness that has me so concerned about the absence of God in our culture. God is beautiful and He inspires beauty. Whether that beauty is expressed in art or in the simple kindness of holding a door for someone carrying a heavy burden, we make beauty because we know the God that defines it. When Isaiah prophesies to Israel about forgetting God he says:
Now it will come about that instead of sweet perfume there will be putrefaction;
Instead of a belt, a rope;
Instead of well-set hair, a plucked-out scalp;
Instead of fine clothes, a donning of sackcloth;
And branding instead of beauty.
Your men will fall by the sword
And your mighty ones in battle.
And her gates will lament and mourn,
And deserted she will sit on the ground.
Beauty leaves us when we leave God.
Our current culture does not merely turn its back on God but seeks to control, if not eliminate, all mentions of Him. How do we bring God back to a culture that so actively rejects Him?
Beauty is, I think, a good place to start. We do not have to mention God, we simply need to reflect His beauty. God’s beauty is a place of refuge and it will be recognized even if God Himself is not. It is time to start asking ourselves if how we do Christianity is beautiful. Does our pragmatism outweigh our aesthetic? Is your life beautiful? That does not mean are you slim with good teeth and a great complexion, rather it means do your actions create a beautiful moment for those you encounter? Maybe rather than struggle for the best parking place, you need to go ahead and park far away – create beauty for someone else by leaving the best spot for them. I can promise you your face is more beautiful with a smile than without.
If this is hard for you, as it often is for me, then spend time experiencing God’s beauty. You will not be able to stop yourself from reflecting it.