Touched by Biblical Beauty
We live in a world of harsh realities, some of them soul-grinding, relentless and ugly. The flash of another bombing. Another friend gone with cancer. Racist rhetoric filled with mind-numbing stupidity. Loud, arrogant, political posturing. Irrational intolerance. Lack of concern for the most vulnerable. Tired, with the psalmist we cry, "Do not be far from me, because distress is near" (Ps. 22:11).
But he is near. The world may be "death impregnated," as one of my mentors used to say, and most of us know the bite of suffering in one form or another, but it also is brim-full of beauty because it everywhere bears the mark of his thumbprint, his "It was very good" (Gen. 1:31). The common graces of tastes, sights, touch, sounds, enduring friendship, love, joy, community. And much, much beauty has been squeezed into the world through the funnel of God's good Word, the Bible. Out of thousands of possible examples, this week I mention two, because they have to do with the bookends of my birthdays. On my first, and this one just past, I have been touched by biblical beauty.
My mom had had three miscarriages before I was born, and the doctors pumped her full of drugs to keep me from a premature introduction to the world. But I was insistent, sticking my nose into the world's business ten weeks early, with only one lung working and the doctors telling my grandmother not to get her hopes up. I started out a little over 4 lbs. and dropped to 3.5, given a 1 in 10 chance of living. So, I was put in an incubator for the first 30 days of my life.
But my mom, who was a believer, though not unusually devout, had read her Bible. So one night she went out on the front porch of the home and cried out to God, saying, "Lord, if you will just let him live, you can have him." Isn't that beautiful. And the Lord did, on both counts. I lived. And he had me. My earliest living memories included an awareness of him, and I have been graced by his presence since, even when I couldn't sense it or see the beauty of it. And so I sing, "You took me from the womb, making me secure while at my mother’s breast. I was given over to You at birth; You have been my God from my mother’s womb" (Ps 22:9–10 HCSB).
Fifty-seven years have passed, full of burdens but also of heart-piercing beauty, and this past Sunday evening, my family celebrated my birthday with a beautiful, biblically-derived tradition we call "Sabbath Tea." Based on the festive, soul-slowing, community building, worship infused principle of the biblical sabbath, sometimes on Saturday nights and sometimes on Sundays, we long have built our family rhythm of a week around a taste-exploding meal accented with music and candles. The finger foods vary. Scones with Devonshire cream and jam, cheese tarts, popcorn and caramel apple slices, olives and fancy cheeses and homemade rosemary wheat crackers. Dried sausage and almonds and fruits, with elderberry or cranberry juices. And, of course, proper English tea served in china cups from a "Brown Betty." A taste of beauty. I am constantly touched by biblically-inspired beauty.
Again with the psalmist I sing,
"The humble will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the LORD will praise Him.
May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD.
All the families of the nations will bow down before You,
for kingship belongs to the LORD;
He rules over the nations.
All who prosper on earth will eat and bow down;
all those who go down to the dust will kneel before Him—
even the one who cannot preserve his life.
Their descendants will serve Him;
the next generation will be told about the Lord.
They will come and tell a people yet to be born
about His righteousness—what He has done."
(Ps 22:26–31 HCSB)
And though the fallenness of this world is ugly, what he has done is beautiful.
(If you would like to share a way that your life has been touched by biblical beauty, please feel free to do so in the comments below!)