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The Beauty of Christmas/New Year’s: The Secret

Reflections from Dr. Howell

Our series on Beauty is about to kick into another gear, as we branch out by asking What is Beautiful About Charlotte? If you don’t live in Charlotte, try this yourself and with others wherever you live – looking for beauty all around. It’s there.

In Charlotte, join us Tuesday January 7, 7 p.m., for a lovely conversation I’ll have with Mayor Harvey Gantt, broadcaster Molly Granth am, and historian Tom Hanchett on “The Beauty of Charlotte.” Keep an eye on Facebook and Instagr am – and share with me, even right now, words or images of what to you is beautiful about Charlotte or wherever you live. This endeavor will make 2020 more beautiful – or we’ll live into the beauty God has already placed all around and in us.

We all need a new beginning. Elie Wiesel wryly suggested that, when each one of us is born, God whispers a secret into our ear: not how to begin, but how to begin again. It’s alluring, but elusive. I think of the marvelous scene in Arthur Miller’s play After the Fall. Quentin, a lawyer, walks on stage and offers this opening monologue: “I think now my disaster really began when I looked up one day – and the bench was empty. No judge in sight. And all that remained was the endless argument with oneself – this pointless litigation of existence before an empty bench. Which is another way of saying – despair.” Doesn’t sound beautiful, does it? Although isn’t there beauty in exposing the brutal truth of life so vividly?

Quentin continues: “With all this darkness, the truth is that every morning when I awake, I’m full of hope! With everything I know – I open my eyes, I’m like a boy! For an instant there’s some unformed promise in the air. I jump out of bed, can’t wait to finish breakfast – and then, it seeps into my room, my life and its pointlessness. And I thought – if I could corner that hope, find what it consists of and either kill it for a lie, or really make it mine…”

How to make it mine? Maybe getting quiet and absorbing a little beauty might help. Thomas Merton wisely reminds us that “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the s ame time.  The mind that responds to the intellectual and spiritual values that lie hidden in a poem, a painting, or a piece of music, discovers a spiritual vitality that lifts it above itself, takes it out of itself, and makes it present to itself on a level that it did not know it could achieve.”

God put all this unnoticed beauty there for a reason. The least we can do is notice. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is beautiful – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). Want 2020 to be a year of peace, growth and joy? Be ready to be astonished. Be willing to be less efficient and productive. Art is unnecessary, and inefficient – like prayer. Anticipate a wealth of giving and getting! – as philosopher Roger Scruton is right: “My pleasure in beauty is like a gift I offer to the beautiful object, which in turn is a gift offered to me.” Our pleasure in beauty pleases God, whom is reflected in all beauty. You might even make that unformed promise your own, and begin again.

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