A Wintry Grace

A Wintry Grace

Snow has a way of making people live out the Golden Rule a bit better.

Perhaps this doesn’t happen for all five months of winter, but the first few snowfalls find my vehicular encounters with people more pleasant as a whole. People are more inclined to give extra space, wait for someone to pull ahead of them, use blinkers, and not honk when a car is sliding through the intersection with a clearly red light.

In short, we seem to naturally offer more grace to one another.

As I navigated the snowy roads a few nights ago, I was wondering why we find it more natural to be gracious in such situations, when normal driving conditions often bring out the frustrated side of humanity. Maybe it is because it is in our best interest to be gracious. Although the light may be green, it is clearly better for us to wait until the skidding car careens out of the intersection, rather than race toward it because the light indicates we can. Or maybe we don’t desire an accident and the headache that insurance claims naturally bring about.

But maybe, just maybe, it is because we are able to recognize a connection that goes beyond our personal best interest and draws us together as humans. The journey home in inclement weather gives me this feeling of unity that is similar to what I feel when an ambulance or fire truck or funeral procession passes by. For a moment, we are united by something that surpasses our personal desires and we acknowledge that someone else takes precedence.

Grace is often spoken of in relation to God’s free and unmerited favor toward us. While that is true and necessary, grace is also something we offer one another. The unmerited part is particularly difficult for us, though. Oftentimes, there is a natural sense of justice we have about what another deserves, but grace is giving people what they don’t deserve. We acknowledge what could be a fair response toward them and then we choose to be more generous than needed. And because it is freely given, that means it is a gift. In a moment of difficulty, we choose to bestow upon the other a gift they don’t deserve, but one which might cause them to change in some way.

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"Beauty will save the world."

Today I came to a (rather) profound realization–the closer one is to God, the better one can see beauty.  This understanding came as I was driving home from work and contemplating my seniors rather immediate rejection of the “Argument from Beauty” that was presented to them today.  Many of them argued that beauty wouldn’t sway anybody.  I asked them if they had ever seen a sunrise or a sunset and been moved with feeling that there must be more.  One class in particular seemed to indicate that it had never happened to them.  I was amazed.  I could think of a couple dozen times over the past few months that the sunrise or sunset alone had filled me with joy and gladness.  Often it leads me to break into spontaneous praise.  As I drove home, I was surveying a gorgeous sunset.  How could they not understand this beauty? 

Then it came to me–because they weren’t very close to Beauty.  The more that I thought about it, the more sense it seemed to make.  These past few years I had grown closer to God and thus I rejoice more in God’s creation.  My semester in Austria was one of constant beauty and wonder.  That is when I first realized that God loves me through beauty.  In particular, I was in Iseltwald, Switzerland.  I saw a breathtaking scenery that words fail to describe and I knew that in that moment God was fiercely loving me.  In fact, a friend and I walked around the lake, belting out praise and worship songs.  My feeling from the entire day was one of amazement that I could experience such beauty.  And that was linked closely to the understanding that I was experiencing Beauty. 

Experience some beauty for yourself!

  The view from the hostel…

Or there have been times when I have experienced the depth of beauty found in a book.  I Believe in Love, for example, or some passages of Scripture that just speak to my heart.  See Psalm 63.  Or when I listen to a beautiful song that moves my heart.  There are times when I am with my family and my nephew gives that irresistible smile that speaks volumes of beauty.  The time that you can spend with really close friends–when you have deep conversations and the silence is never awkward but always filled with time to ponder the depths of goodness.  Or that moment of silence in which you can rest despite the surrounding chaos.  The sweet moments spent before Our Eucharistic King.  I have experienced so much beauty!  In my mind it makes so much sense to know God through the different experiences of beauty.  

Now here was a classroom full of students so willing to dismiss beauty and say that it was just a matter of preference.  I wanted to argue that beauty isn’t always subjective but I didn’t know how I would confront their arguments.  I already had students sitting there with “This is so stupid” written over their faces.  Does beauty mean so little?

The closer we draw to Beauty, the more we are capable of seeing Him in the world around us.  If we are living in sin or have no desire to know Him, then our ability to see beauty diminishes.  The atheist could very well see beautiful things and call them such.  But it is the contemplative nun who sacrificed her life for God that can see beauty in every moment.  It is the sacrificing father that can see the beauty in life.  The one who is running after Christ can see beauty amidst the suffering of life. 

I don’t want to say that beauty is a matter of perspective, but how you are living and what you value can transform what is beautiful.  I wish I could claim to see beauty perfectly, but I do not.  Too often I will admit the beauty of the sunrise but fail to see the beauty in my student or in that stranger that just cut me off on the interstate.  Yet how more beautiful is the person than the rest of creation?  Google images even proves it.  I googled “beauty” and I saw pages and pages of women.  They weren’t the most modestly covered women, but it seemed to indicate that we know where true beauty lies, even if we misuse beauty.

How do you teach someone to love beauty?  I showed them 30 pictures of landscapes, sunrises, and children.  Many of them seemed to think I was wasting their time.  Just pictures.  Just beauty?  I am beginning to see the truth of the quote by Fyodor Dostoevsky:

“Beauty will save the world.”

Book Mountain, Gaming, Austria

It is true.  Beauty will save the world.  If we cannot accept Beauty, if we cannot see Him, then we can never experience the utter beauty that is Heaven or understand the beauty of Earth.  I don’t know how I can teach this understanding of beauty to my students.  They have so much and yet they have so little.  If only I could give them some of my experiences of beauty and make them not be simply my stories but rather their own experiences.  They see a Church of rules and strictness.  But they are missing the Church of ineffable beauty and unsurpassed joy.  This must be a thing that only God can work in their hearts through the power of His mercy and love.

 Love does take us and transfigure and torture us. It does break our hearts with an unbearable beauty, like the unbearable beauty of music.                   ~G.K. Chesterton

Lord, take us and transfigure us with Your Beauty.