Art and LiteratureCultureLife and Faith

Have You Noticed Beauty?

A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I have noticed that many people claim that humans are animals. After all, we are mammals and are classified as
Homo sapiens in the scientific realm. But that is a mere man made classification. God tells us from the very beginning that humans are different than animals. We are made in the image and likeness of God. While the animals may also have been formed from the dust of the earth, it was only into man that God himself breathed the breath of life.

I have noticed something else: all animals eat food, but only human beings arrange food on their plates and take photos of it. Only humans stop to watch the sunrise or the moonrise for the sheer beauty of it. Only human beings write poetry or draw and paint—even from the dawn of time. When Adam first speaks of Eve, it is recorded in a couplet. When Eve is tempted by the serpent, she sees that the tree is pleasant to the eye. Perhaps it is a few readings too many of Lewis and Tolkien for me to hope that God formed and filled the world by singing the words of creation. Even if he did not, two books of his word brim with poetry and songs.

I have noticed that on my most exhausting days of travel or work, what I long for is Beauty. To watch the sun set and the stars creep into the sky, one by one and then in clusters. To read a story or a poem. To listen to an album straight through while I eat my dinner. To dance in my kitchen. To make food, yes, but also to group it by colour on my plate. To sit down—feet free of shoes—listening to the evensong of birds give way to cricket choruses. To listen to an audio book because I’m too tired to read anything beyond five lines.

I have noticed that when I’m not reading much or stopping to enter into Beauty, it is then that I have no words. I cannot write. I make a poor conversationalist. I feel too tired for friends. I run and run, but it is more like a crawling car on petrol fumes. In short, I get crabby and withdrawn when I am not able to be immersed in Beauty in some form. Goethe explains why: there is a sense of the Beautiful which God has twined into the human soul. We are different from the animals…and the angels, and from God himself. Yet neither animals nor angels are made in God’s image, only man is. We are distinct—imaging God in our very being, in our capacity to know and to appreciate Beauty, in our cultivating and stewarding whatever things God gives to us, from children and gardens, to art and music.

I have noticed that Beauty is a gift that we get to enjoy. That we are allowed to savour the words of a poem on our tongues. That our eyes burn with the glory of a sunset or a sky on fire with meteors. That our hearts nearly break or burst in the highest swell of a song, either poignant or joy-filled. It is a gift to know that Beauty itself is a gift. It is a gift to know God and to be known by him. It is Beauty that leads us to praise. Beauty is our companion to draw us into worship. It is Beauty that beckons us to enter into itself and find that we are in the courts of God. Beauty leads us further up and further in.

Have you noticed?

Johanna Byrkett

Johanna Byrkett

Johanna (Jody) Byrkett enjoys hiking various types of terrain, foggy mornings and steaming mugs of tea, reading classic literature and theological essays, studying words and their origins, and practising the art of hospitality. (She also has the singularly annoying habit of spelling things 'Britishly'.)

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