1 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,[a]
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
9 The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl[b]
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
This year, Monday Matters will focus on wisdom conveyed in the treasures of the book of Psalms. We’ll look at the psalms read in church on the day before Monday Matters comes to your screen.
It goes without saying that as we begin a new year, there is much in our world that is not beautiful. We are confronted with images of rubble in Gaza, and all the pain implied in that destruction. The cruel violence by Hamas terrorists makes us want to look away. Wanton destruction in the Ukraine continues. More than 300,000 Russian mothers have lost soldier children. Closer to home, partisan political rhetoric heats up, with language that can only be described as ugly. On that cheery note, where do we look for beauty?
The psalm read in church yesterday (above) contains a refrain heard in other psalms. It calls on us to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. As I run across that phrase in this psalm and others, I often wonder if that is just denial at work. Is it a call to bury our heads in the sand?
Our worship, on a good day, strives for an experience of beauty. That comes in all styles of worship, architecture, language, music. All of it is intended to help us get a glimpse of the transcendent. In our life as a church, one of the things we strive for is beauty.
Newsflash: That doesn’t always happen in the church. Malcolm Muggeridge, a journalist from the last century and a late convert to Christianity, came to faith without rose-colored glasses. It was his opinion that organized religion can kill the beauty of God. (Thank goodness the Episcopalians aren’t all that organized.) I wonder if you’ve ever had that experience of the church.
Mother Teresa was well acquainted with the ugliness of the world, confronting day after day the poverty of Calcutta. She was asked by Malcolm Muggeridge how she could keep going amidst it all, the problems so enormous, her contributions so small. She replied that God had called her to be faithful, not successful. Again and again, she spoke of her vocation to do something beautiful for God (That phrase provided the title for Muggeridge’s book about Mother Teresa.) Her worship in the beauty of holiness did not need to take place in a stunning cathedral. It took place smack dab in the middle of the world’s ugliness, a beautiful expression of worship not only with her lips but with her life.
In the midst of exile, one of the ugliest phases of Israel’s history, the prophet Isaiah spoke of beauty: How beautiful are the feet of those who bear good news. (Isaiah 52.7, and echoed by St. Paul in Romans 10)
Here’s a thought as we begin a new year. Wherever we confront the ugliness of our world, whether in the news or on social media, or in our own resentful hearts, are there ways to notice beauty? And beyond that, are there ways that you and I can bring the beauty of God’s good news to those places where beauty is in short supply? Can we let the good news of grace, love offered without condition, forgiveness, healing that is ours in Jesus Christ, be shared? Can we keep an eye out for God’s beauty?
Notice the beauty today. It’s there to discover. Find it in your connection with church, perhaps. Whatever access you have to the beauty of creation, find it there. Find it in the people around you. I carry with me a sketch book. I often draw people on the subway, at an airport gate, in the park. (Sometimes risky business.) As I’ve done that over the years, I’ve come to see that there is beauty in every human being I draw, even those most disfigured, even those that fashion magazines would deem unattractive. See the beauty around you. Do something beautiful for God. Let that be your worship today.