Beauty. Believe it.

Posted By on Mar 7, 2017 | 6 comments


Last month I was in London, very early on a frosty morning. Thomas was in town for a theological conference and I’d tagged along, intent on finally snatching a couple of hours at the British National Gallery (can you believe I’d never visited before?). But I was tired. The day had barely begun and I already felt bone weary, dogged by work half-finished and my own travel bag of current troubles and a few of the headlines I’d read on the bus that morning. The walking day ahead looked very long, and my adventurous spirit seemed to have wandered off without me. It was cold, so I walked aimlessly around the squares of Covent Garden, downhearted, waiting for shops to open, hoping for a cafe.

And then there was music. Abruptly. Music so full and living and quick it was like sunlight slicing through fog. The tint of the air seemed to visibly brighten. I watched people all round the echoing, high space perk up their ears, and start walking toward the music, something golden and swift by Mozart.  I followed. We found the musicians, four of them, by leaning over a balcony, looking down into one of the warmer corners of Covent Garden. They were grouped in a half moon, a cellist, a flautist, and two violinists. Bundled in faded sweaters and battered boots, with sly flairs of colour in one violinist’s blue scarf, and the flautist’s red beret.

And they danced as they played, stomped and twirled in perfect, but friendly, laughing sync. They played with frost-reddened noses and fingers, but the swift, laughing music belied the cold. In fact, that music took no notice of anything but its own joy, and it seemed to come from deep within them, part of heart and muscle, emerging into their fingers, received by the strings of the violin or flute or mellow-throated cello. I watched them, with a dozen others, fascinated. People smiled. Toes tapped. Who knew why they had braved the cold and dawn to shatter the fog with their song light. All we knew was that they laughed as they played. They caught our eyes and winked.

And in a sudden, unravelled happiness, standing at that rail, I knew a quality of joy that comes more and more rarely to me since childhood. I knew innocence. Happiness without shadow of fear. I stood there for half an hour as they played on and on, and I left the cold and heaviness of my heart behind. The music made me childlike because for an instant, its potent beauty allowed me a shifted, inner vision of the joy that is coming, coming, coming. The dark, fleeting shadows of my morning trouble, my weariness, my fear, were phantoms that blessedly died in the strong light of the beauty singing around me.

And I knew afresh, as I have known it in my truest moments before, that the great promise of beauty, the thrummed message that sings to us in those moments when we are struck by art or music or story, is that ‘everything sad is coming untrue’. Like Sam in Middle Earth who saw a high star and knew that the Shadow was a ‘passing thing’, I stood in the light of that music and with Julian Norwich, for an instant, I knew that ‘all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well’.

There are ten theological things I could say about this. There is incarnational theology to be applied. Defences of art and imagination to be made. Book-length arguments to be written…all of which I intend in the future. But for this moment, I want simply to bear witness to the truth that beauty speaks. I want you to know even the briefest gleam of the light that came to me and made me a child, holding my Father’s hand once more. I want you to trust that when beauty comes to you, in its illogical, unreasonable joy, it speaks a truth larger than any darkness you have known.

Trust it. Trust joy. Trust hope.

Because, you know, it’s easy to distrust those things. We live in a world of headlines and reason, where shouted doom and daily controversies define our waking moments. We live in adult hurry. We work and give and measure our success. We live in an age of reason, where we tend to think that only what can be argued is true. We mistrust things we cannot explain or see.

But today, in this season in which we prepare our hearts to receive the risen Christ, I hope that you may be given the grace to stand in the light of a beauty that speaks a joy beyond reason. Redemption, happy endings, resurrections, are entirely beyond explanation. We can only receive them, as we receive new life at the hand of a Creator who is always kindling light in darkness. In this dark and difficult world, may you have the grace today to believe the promise of beauty, to believe it in the face of despair. May a song or a phrase of story or a glimpse of new-sprouted blossom or a burning note of music grip you.

And may you believe the story it tells.

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And… may you find a sister-friend like Joy. Who teaches me to embrace… Music. Childlikeness. Laughter. Every single day. I couldn’t resist.

6 Comments

  1. This was an absolutely beautiful post, Sarah! Just last week I was in Ireland where I spent two-and-a-half-weeks. It was rainy and cold most of my time there, which some days just seemed to put a damper on things. Not to mention, that I was battling a terrible cold the first week there. (No fun while on holiday!)

    One day during that first week, my family and I went into the city near our holiday house. While we were there, we got stuck in traffic that was actually parked on a main road. There was a church service going on, the road was closed, and we were stuck for, well, we didn’t know how long. We had never seen anything like it. Oh, that just put me in a mood!

    But then, I turned to my left, and there was a gorgeous stream with a bridge and a gathering of ducks. It was still misting outside, the air was still nippy, but we put on our coats, got out, walked around, and the beauty just took us over. The ducks were swimming around and would follow us along in the water as we walked on the sidewalk. It was such a moment of peace in what was a moment of confusion, tension, and frustration. The traffic finally ended and we went on our way, but now with a happy memory to hold.

    Just wanted to share that little story with you, and let you know that your posts are beauty-filled, inspiring and packed with truth. Thank you for being a shining light in this dark world, and for offering hope and joy through your words!

    Joy and blessings,
    Elizabeth

  2. Oh this just made my heart sing Sarah! Thank you for capturing all the facets of your experience and sharing it with us.

  3. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful moment. I had a similar moment last week as I sat around a bonfire with my family. My heart was (also) heavy with headlines, turmoil around us, and everyday life battles. I have struggled over the past few months to make sense of our world and how to respond. I looked up and was struck by the stars above me. Ancient, distant observers who, despite their age, are still predated by our Father, their Creator. It was so helpful to be reminded that the God who spoke them into existence can handle a world in chaos and fury. That it is part of the plan to usher in the return of His son. Perspective is the key to my sanity these days:-)

  4. Beautiful! Beautiful! Beautiful! The way you weave thought into words is one of those shafts of light that illuminate this present darkness–be encouraged! and keep pondering the deep things and expressing them so wonderfully for the rest of us–‘apples of gold in settings of silver’

  5. This post meant a lot to me as I tend to “mistrust beauty.” I copied a large portion down for remembering. Thank you!

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