Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Beauty and Longing

This week, we are in Vail, CO. Our first technical "vacation" since marriage, it has been an almost overwhelming experience of fun, recreation, and beauty. I've had recurring realizations that "we don't have to do anything!" and "there's no schedule to worry about!" and "we're not in a hurry!" A week at this pace in and of itself is healing, but it's been matched by breathtaking views-- mountain, stream, sky-- that are like balm on a wound. 

On our first night in the mountains, I found myself spontaneously remembering poetic verse, reciting rhymes I had memorized as a child. Phrases like "O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!" and "I see the lights of the city gleam through the rain and the mist" have been appropriate to quote in this context where we find ourselves surrounded by such realities. But speaking these poems called to mind the context in which I originally learned them. Nobody made me memorize them; they weren't a school assignment or an extra-curricular project. It was simply the result of reading and re-reading them until they became a part of me. As I recited the lines aloud, I remembered loving them before I really knew what they meant; savoring and dwelling on them just because they carried a weight that compelled me. 

I realize now that my childhood love for poetry was a longing to connect with beauty before I even understood it. I couldn't have defined some of the words I learned, or explain what the metaphors or phrases meant, but I knew they were beautiful. I knew they conveyed a reality that captured my imagination and swept up my affections. I knew they meant something, something important. They hinted at a reality that was bigger than me, and I wanted to know it. 

In a very different way, the mountains create in me the same kind of longing. They whisper the same poignancy, that there is a Beauty I can't quite understand but already love. They powerfully remind me that there is Something Bigger that I long to be a part of; and that losing myself in it, I will be found. As I put this feeling into words, I realize it is The Word I'm referring to-- Jesus Christ. It is He who shines in all that's fair, He who calls me to Himself, He in whom I am lost and yet found. It is He who is the ultimate meaning behind the metaphor, the movement upon the mountain, the Beauty I can't quite understand, but can't help but love. It is He. 

This experience of Beauty is what ultimately led C.S. Lewis, a prominent scholar and writer, from atheism to faith in Christ. His reflections on it are famously recorded both in his autobiography "Surprised by Joy" and a shorter essay, "The Weight of Glory." Here is just one quote: 

"We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter...the books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited."  

What kinds of beauty stir up longing in you? Could they be a signpost to the One who alone can satisfy that longing?  

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