I am walking the blocks of my town, looking for color. I had hoped to find many trees aflame with fall colors, but for some reason (meteorological, I’m sure), it’s a bit drab here. No worries. There is always an alternative… what’s the word for a reliable autumnal color accent?
Oh yes, mum’s the word.
I just recently finished the book, Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim. Published in 1922, it focuses on four disparate women who spend a spring vacation in Italy. I will admit that I started it to help with insomnia one night, but I was soon enchanted myself by the wonderful transformative power of beauty in the lives of these women. Von Arnim does a deft job of quickly sketching the sad, somber lives of these women in their native England before the trip. Each is deeply unhappy. Not all know it yet.
On their first morning in Italy, Lotty, the woman who was the catalyst for the vacation, is overwhelmed by what she experiences, thinking:
“How beautiful, how beautiful. Not to have died before this… to have been allowed to see, breathe, feel this… She stared, her lips parted. Happy? Poor, ordinary, everyday word. But what could one say, how could one describe it? It was as thought she could hardly stay inside herself, it was as thought she were too small to hold so much of joy, it was as though she were washed through with light.”
The beauty, once inside her, changes her. She begins to overlook slights. A vision for what could be in their lives grips her. She just knows that the others cannot remain unchanged in the presence of such glory.
I think the modern church has neglected beauty. We have stressed truth as the primary vehicle for conversion, overlooking the incredible transformative power of beauty in the lives of humans. Both are expressions of God’s nature.
Truth speaks to the brain. But beauty – in all its forms – engages all the senses, reaching to the heart of who we are. And when it does, when it floods over us in its otherworldly abundance, it can be overwhelming, leaving awe in its wake.
One of the women is rattled by this experience. When she opened herself to beauty:
“It brought in with it… feelings one couldn’t manage, great things about death and time and waste; glorious and devastating things, magnificent and bleak, at once rapture and terror and immense, heart-cleaving longing. She felt small and dreadfully alone. She felt uncovered and defenseless.”
This may be one of the reasons why Paul uses the metaphor of an aroma to explain our witness:
For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. (2 Cor 2:15)
We are not simply message makers. Or street preachers. Of course, we spread the beauty of the Savior through our words, but also through our actions, the sound of our singing, the fragrance of the bread we take to a neighbor, the reassuring touch of a hand on a grieving shoulder, or the hues of a Spirit-inspired painting.
Yes, beauty can enchant us. But it also has the power to change us.
Lord, we long for more of your beauty, in all its forms. We long to be pervaders of it, as well. Help us to show how you are the answer to all our longings, the source of all our delights.
Reader: Tell me something beautiful you’ve seen.