The Value of Beauty

There are a myriad of beautiful things in this world. I wonder if we might think on those things sometimes. In the midst of the complexities and the wrangling over political positions and the polarizations for boundaries and borders and babies born and unborn. I wonder if a few moments of the beautiful might be the strength that we need to walk into the hard stuff and keep going to try and make it better.

On the day of the Florida massacre I was in my car for a while, so I was listening to reports as the information disseminated through media outlets in stops and starts. I pulled up to a stoplight behind a white SUV. It wasn’t particularly warm, but it was certainly warmer than it had been for several days and out the back seat passenger side window was a little arm and hand. The arm was covered down to the wrist by a bright orange sweatshirt sleeve. The arm was high enough that I knew the kid had to be in a car seat of some sort because the arm was short enough that it couldn’t have belonged to a kid much older than 3 or 4. That little arm just stretched out that window and as the light turned green, and they turned the same way I was turning, the arm stayed out the window and the hand did the wave up and down against the wind, you know, like you do sometimes when you put your hand out the window. When was the last time you remember doing that? The kid that belonged to that arm and hand most likely knew nothing about an AR-15 and a troubled student and 14-year-olds dying. They simply knew the car window was down and a hand got to ride the wave of the winds.

My friends Pat and Cliff are in Hawaii. I told them when they left the only way Jesus was okay with them missing church was to send pictures back to the pastor so that I could be there vicariously. And so they have. I’ve smiled at the tail of a huge whale oh so close to the boat on which they were sea-faring. And I’ve laughed at a monk seal sunning himself on the beach, and shaken my head in wonder at the picture of a rainbow poking through the clouds after a rainstorm over the ocean. I’ve giggled a little at a picture of Cliff standing in the midst of strong ocean winds blowing his hair straight up and a picture of “hula pie” that was bigger than his head. And on that Valentine’s/Ash Wednesday/day of too much violence, a picture of a gorgeous bouquet of ginger flowers, beauty that perhaps could only come from the islands.

I’ve been to Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center a couple of times in the last month. The first was to experience a one-man monologue entitled “C.S. Lewis, The Most Reluctant Convert” written by Max McClean. C.S. Lewis is one of the historically great apologists for the Christian faith and his book, “Surprised by Joy” is well worth the read. The presentation was amazing. I know my sermons are sometimes all too long, but this man was onstage for 80 minutes non-stop in this one-man presentation. His mind/memory/soul was so in tune with the person of C.S. Lewis it was as if he were having a conversation with each of us individually about his life and learning and teaching. And then last weekend the symphony included a middle section by Prokofiev with a 22 year old (looked 15 to me) virtuoso violinist who was mesmerizing in the sounds he brought out of that instrument. He played for probably 30-40 minutes without a piece of music in front of him. I wondered what living with that kind of gift/talent means for a 22 year old travelling the country and performing. Is there a particular loneliness that goes with the ability to bring such beauty to a stage surrounded by audiences of people who stand in ovation from a rather unsurpassable distance?

Of what value is beauty in a world of measurements and overwhelming amounts of data and information and empirical explanations? And for those dealing in measurements and data and information and empirical explanations, is there great beauty in the alignment of such things as well? Can we decide to see the beauty in the balance of all things existing and being created, the expectations of a well-practiced piece of music and the unexpected arm of a child letting a hand ride the waves of the wind, and tales of whale-tails *snort* sent through the interwebs, the same interwebs that confound and frustrate and maybe too often make a mockery of human interaction and community?

I love Sarah Kay – the spoken-word poet and story-teller that I’ve included in the youtube video this week. The earnestness of her presentations and the wit and wisdom of her words intrigue me. This description, from a TED talk, of her family and the invasion of 9-11 into their world as New York city-dwellers is, I think, a way of looking at how art and beauty have a way of surviving and helping us survive the deepest struggles of life and the world. May it be, for us, a minute (or 12) of grace…