Recently while watching an episode of “Call the midwife” I became aware of something a particular segment of the show had produced in me; the recognition of a beautiful moment. In the episode a baby had been born extremely malformed and would certainly die soon after birth. Some of the hospital staff placed the baby uncovered by an open window as a way to hasten the baby’s death through exposure rather than actually euthanizing the baby intentionally. A Nun who had participated in the delivery of the baby but had not been charged with it’s after-care discovered the baby by the open window, shivering and gently crying, and alone. Quickly assessing the situation the Nun wrapped the baby in a blanket and started to quietly quote scripture describing God’s care for the infant.
Watching the event unfold in the story produced in me several different emotions; anger at the staff for perceived callousness, sadness at the pain the infant must be feeling without having any understanding, but more than anything else something I recognized as beauty flooded my soul. The Nun’s love and concern for the baby could only be described as beautiful in that moment.
When we think of something as beautiful we might normally describe it as something that is aesthetically pleasing. A physical object like a flower, or scenery, or even a person that has the right combination of physical attributes that seems right to us, but more than right, in fact just right. This is true of other physical productions such as music, which isn’t really visible but still produces the right combination of sound senses that strike us in just the right way.
This is also true of other things as well. Scientists often use elegance or beauty as kind of signposts to lead to new discoveries or formulas. Beauty or elegance seems to be just the right combination of things to lead them to recognize how things are best described or work together. Brian Greene in his book, “The Elegant Universe”, talks about how this quality helps scientists to recognize new solutions to problems.
Beauty or Elegance seems to be something that is inherent in the created order. I believe it may be something that God has built into our creation so that we may better appreciate and understand it. But as the episode of “Call to midwife” illustrates, beauty goes beyond just the material, physical world. There is something about kindness and care, in other words Love, that can only adequately be described as beautiful. We identify that in God when we sing, Oh Lord you’re beautiful”. Since God can’t be seen as he truly is, there is no physical attributes to which we can ascribe “beauty”, yet we describe him as beautiful. These attributes aren’t physical, at least in the way we understand them. Instead they are perfect blend of moral and personality characteristics that are just right, in other words, beautiful. When these characteristics are displayed in people their beautiful qualities resonate with us spiritually just as surely as physical beauty does.
This is why the Gospel can be described as beautiful. The perfect alignment of love, care, sacrifice, grace and other right moral qualities produce a resonance with our spirit that can be identified. This identification leads us to understand that it is the “right” formula just as scientist can recognize the rightness in a beautiful equation.
Beauty isn’t the only way to identify the rightness of the Gospel but it is a good marker. It’s also a marker that God has placed in everyone so that we use it to help others to identify the rightness of the Gospel. I’ve come to see beauty as one of the fingers of God in his creation and very much to embrace it. If you are looking for God’s activity in this world, that’s a good place to start.