Though some aspects of theology have caused me to engage in deep, and at times painful, existential wrestling, there are some concepts in my faith tradition that have only ever seemed beautiful to me, and their beauty only increases with time. I wonder if there is something in this?
There are the ideas, the doctrines, the concepts that seem to inevitably lead us to angst and confusion and frustration and judgmentalism, and perhaps some of these may still be very important and worthy of the sacred wrestle, but, are there not aspects of faith that are simply enchanting, mysterious and rich with beauty? When these become the ‘centre of gravity’ for a faith, other ideas can float past (like space junk?) without knocking us out of orbit.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky said ‘beauty will save the world’ (through the mouth of a fictional character in ‘The Idiot’). To me at least, it seems that the story of our faith and the way we understand God should be deeply characterised by and oriented around beauty.
Beauty is not just an aesthetic quality or a sentimental posture towards the world. It has no correlation with monetary value. It sounds terribly cliche, but we know that many of the most beautiful things in life cannot be bought or sold. Laughter, sunrises, birdsong, grass underfoot. It is often raw and disruptive, at times shocking and unedited. It can be found on mountains and in valleys, in grief and celebration, in wrinkles and fingerprints and dirt and sweat. Beauty often springs forth in very ordinary moments and places, at times when we aren’t looking for it.
A couple nights ago I was driving home from running an errand, and I noticed I was driving well under the speed limit, unconsciously slowing down to drink in the sites of houses wrapped in Christmas lights. My window was down, letting in the cool Summer breeze while the warm, familiar sound of Mumford and Sons wrapped through my speakers. Sometimes, in very simple moments like this, I feel a suffocating sense of beauty. It envelops my very being.
And is there a more beautiful story or theological concept than the Incarnation? This idea that God, the ground of being, the composer of galaxies and stardust, would enter the human neighbourhood in the humble circumstances of a newborn birthed in a first-century stable by a strong, teenage woman. This is all at once strange and enchanting and beautiful. That this baby would be called Immanuel, ‘God with us’, that God would be with us in such total vulnerability is beautiful. Disruptively so.
Three years ago I wrote this poem, seeking to capture these lofty ideas about the Incarnation, and how it brings us into the presence of the ‘ordinary magnificence’. I remain as captivated and curious with the ordinary magnificence, as I was when I first penned these words. This Christmas, after a year that has been filled with extraordinary disruption, confusion, languishing and anxiety, may you find yourself drawn into, swept up in, oriented around beauty; perhaps our greatest clue that at the centre of it all, there is love.