The Invitation of Beauty
"One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple." Psalm 27:4
Flying home from out of town a couple of weeks ago, I ended up sitting next to a young twentysomething woman. We were somewhat delayed, so we chatted a little about small things to start - where we were from, what we did, yada yada yada. I found out she was from Buffalo and was an Art History major. I don't know squat about Art really, but I made a mental note.
The more we talked, and after she found out I was a pastor, she began to open up and tell me her story. She had been out of the state trying to get her thoughts together on life, the future, and even contemplating God a bit. She was not very read in the Bible, but she was a smart young lady for sure. So, I started asking her some questions since she opened the door for me.
"What attracts you to art?" I asked. She said (paraphrased) "I like to think about how things work, how the artist put together what he/she was painting, drawing, sculpting."
"But isn't there something else that goes beyond that? Why does it move you?" I asked. She said, "I guess it would be the beauty of it."
That's what I was looking for. The beauty of it. That is what the attractive quality to the arts most captures in our hearts - beauty. And that is often what is most missing in our understanding of God.
It seems that God can become a philosophy - an intellectual exercise that climbs into mystery - for so many of us. Or maybe He becomes a historical figure to be researched. Or maybe at its worst, God becomes an sentimental piece of cultural lore - we feel good about having Him around and using His name to make our stuff look more holy.
God as philosophy or history or sentimentality is not necessarily wrong - just incomplete, dry, and tame. What we have lost so often in reference to God is beauty. Now back to my plane conversation.
I told this young woman that as an Art History major she ought to try reading the Bible because she has an eye trained for beauty. Later in the conversation, I secretly illustrated my point by telling her a story of Jesus she had never before heard.
I told her of this lady in a village who had some issues in her life that expressed themselves in sexual immorality. She was with too many men, some of them married, and word had gotten to the super moral religious people of the town. So, these folks camped out to catch her in her immorality - and they did; they caught her right in the "act." So, they dragged her into the public area of the village to see what the traveling superstar Rabbi Jesus had to say about this. With rocks in hand, they told Jesus that the Law gave them permission to stone her, but they asked him what he thought (they were trying to be tricky b/c not only did they not like this woman, they didn't have much use for Jesus either). Jesus, after writing a little in the sand, told the accusers that if any one of them had never done anything wrong to please be the first to throw a fastball at her head.
Rocks dropped to the ground instead of being hurled - and they all left. Jesus then asked the woman where her accusers were - who was condemning her? She told him that nobody was accusing her now - they left. So Jesus said, I don't condemn you either - but stop sinning. And you could tell that the way He said it was full of truth and love all rolled up together.
Then I asked my airplane friend, "What do you see in that story?" And she replied, "Beauty." I think I agree.
And I think I wish I saw it more often.