Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Longing for beauty


I live in a world in which there is so much ugliness. I see this in the ghastly and terrifying ways in which humans engage in angry and cruel behaviours -  from the family to the nation state. I see it in the ways in which humans have desecrated and defiled the earth, the rivers, the oceans and the sky.  I see it in the appalling ways by which religious leaders (who should, one would think, know better) treat women.

My list could go on and on.  Maybe you have a list of your own.

In the midst of this, I find myself longing for beauty.  This came home to me full force the other night in a dream.  More about this later, but do pay attention to your dreams.

The beauty of which I speak is that which is never sought.  It comes all unexpectedly, and in my case it often provokes tears. 

I think of the first time I heard a piece of music named “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” by George Frederick Handel.   I was a wee shaver of a lad, maybe five or six years old.  What I heard was so beautiful that I began to cry.

Then there was the face of Rina, a septuagenarian woman of Italian birth. She was a parishioner in Pittsfield.  I was moved to tears by the beauty of the face of an old woman.

When I first heard T.S. Elliot’s poem “The Journey of the Magi”, I was similarly moved.  The 43 lines of this poem led me to a place in which I said “This is so beautiful -  how could another man sum up all my hopes, fears and desires with such fearful accuracy?” 

The poem will be my blog tomorrow.  In the Christian calendar Jan 6th is the “Feast of the Epiphany” -  a commemoration of the visit of the wise men to the child Jesus.  (The poem needs to be read out loud!).

This unexpected beauty is wonderful. It is also troublesome, for we can never return to it.  Beauty is experienced in the minute.

My dream was powerful.  In it I was driving a car through some streets in England, on my way to “somewhere”. The dream-journey took me to a valley, and now I was not driving, but hovering.

I was hovering over a place with such incredible beauty.  It was a gentle valley, with lovely meadows, and a fast flowing river.  Even as I hovered (seeing the dream scene in full colour) I was aware that this was a place of unutterable beauty. I thought (within the dream) “I know this place”.

The dream moved on and I was back into City driving. I wanted to go back to the lovely valley, but try as I might, I could not find it again.

That dream has haunted me for days.  It has reminded me that I cannot go back to an earlier experience of beauty.  What I experienced “back then” was a gift for the moment.  I’ll never again weep at the sound of Handel’s “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba”, try as I might.

But the dream has also made me long for sensitive eyes and ears, and smell, taste and touch which will be sensitive and receptive to “unutterable beauty” whenever it chooses to surprise me to tears.




2 comments:

  1. Michael, what a lovely essay.

    If you don't already know, T. S. Eliot recorded a reading of his poem "The Journey of the Magi". Here's the link.

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  2. Exquisitely moving, Michael. Thank you...

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