NOTE: this article first appeared in the Winter 2017 edition of Stoke Poges News.
Beauty. It’s everywhere when you think about it: a perfectly lit Christmas tree; a big, wide smile on the face of someone you love; the exquisite design-work of that new dress/suit/chess-set/car (Audi R8 gets my vote). Why are iPhones so popular? In part, because they’re beautifully designed. And here’s a thought: real, hardcore mathematicians – I imagine men with impressive moustaches for some reason – tell us that there’s even real, genuine beauty in mathematics. Mathematics! And then there’s horses. Beautiful. And the taste of a good ale or [insert beverage here]. Lovely stuff.
But why are we so drawn to beauty? I mean, it’s not exactly useful. An ugly iPhone would work just as well as a beautiful one. Christmas trees, let’s face it, have zero practical usefulness. Water hydrates much better than the taste of Newcastle Brown. And that smile on your loved one’s face doesn’t actually do a lot (except exercise a few facial muscles).
And yet it’s beauty – of one sort or another – that makes us come alive. In October I gave a lecture which quoted two scientists’ reactions to beauty.
Firstly, consider the acknowledgement of evolutionary scientist, Michael Ruse, who writes: ‘Nothing even yet scratches at an explanation of how a transformed ape could produce the magnificence of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony’. There’s something profoundly mysterious about this beauty business. Then consider the words of the uber-genius, Albert Einstein, who, on hearing the 13-year old violin prodigy, Yehudi Menuhin, play in concert, went backstage, kissed him, and said, “Today, Yehudi, you have once again proved to me that there is a God in heaven.”
At this time of year especially, we can often find ourselves surrounded by beauty (frost, friendships, food, fires) – it’s a reminder that, gloriously, there’s something much deeper and more mysterious to this world than the stuff it’s made of. “Today, Yehudi, you have once again proved to me that there is a God in heaven.” If you’d like to think more about this, do let me know and I’ll happily send you a free recording of October’s lecture. Alternatively, you can watch it online at youtu.be/NWyf4qbmc8c. As always, you are, of course, always warmly welcome to 1stSunday@4 or any of SPFC’s Sunday morning services (details at http://www.stokepogesfreechurch.org).
Wishing you the best, most beautiful Christmas, Lewis.
“Thy great deliverance is a greater thing
Than purest imagination can foregrasp;
A thing beyond all conscious hungering,
Beyond all hope that makes the poet sing.
It takes the clinging world, undoes it’s clasp,
Floats it afar upon a mighty sea,
And leaves us quiet with love and liberty and thee.”
George MacDonald (1880)
I came across this video today – an excerpt of a sermon of the American Pastor John Piper on how he feels about ‘the prosperity Gospel’ (the “trust-Jesus-and-you’ll-get-health-and-wealth message” often preached in America). Moving and thought-provoking stuff.
An informal video based on a recent talk: