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Roxane B. Salonen, Published December 13 2013

Living Faith: Beauty a way to approach the waiting time

Beauty, truth and goodness are the gentle forces that attract people to belief in God, though individuals may be moved by one over another.

It’s hard for me to say which has been my firmest draw. Because I am a seeker of truth, much of what keeps me solid is discovering what is true. Goodness also inspires me. But beauty stands out as particularly alluring.

In fact, I’ve read that of those three transcendentals, in our age, beauty has been the most attracting; that when the other two fail to prove faith real, beauty is the one to which many holdouts eventually succumb.

What about beauty rises above?

I heard a talk tying in beauty with Advent, the Christian season of waiting for the promised messiah’s birth. The speaker, Stella Jeffrey, Fargo, has a master’s degree in theology and is working on her doctorate on the topics of person, marriage and family.

One of the ways Jeffrey explained beauty was by sharing about the day her grandfather, 101, was told that his wife, 96, was in her final hours of life. Upon being made aware of this, he summoned the strength to wheel himself to her bedside. Leaning in toward his longtime wife, he placed her hand on his head and just sat there a while in silence.

Jeffrey said many in the nursing home and her family members still hold this moment in their minds and hearts as beauty encapsulated.

The ways in which beauty come to us are numerous, she added, mentioning, by way of example, sunrises and sunsets as two events that speak beauty to many.

As we gaze upon beauty, faith often makes an appearance, too. “The admittance of beauty leads to wondering, ‘Where did that come from?’ ” Jeffrey noted, adding that every created thing reflects something of the creator.

How can we make an account of beautiful things through a scientific explanation? Beauty cannot be pinned down in the concrete.

Jeffrey said something about beauty “just stops us.” “Beauty is the everyday indications of God,” she said. “Through creation, we can see that beauty is a divine perfection.”

Beauty draws us in, prompting a pondering of the transcendent.

In another recent talk, I heard an atheist who converted to Christianity explain how gazing at her first child awoke in her such an awe of creation that all the book knowledge and scientific evidence she’d acquired to fully explain life suddenly shriveled.

“I realized that the love I was feeling for my son and that I’d experienced in this little family of ours has a source that is somewhere outside of us,” said Jennifer Fulwiler, “and if the whole world blew up tomorrow and there was nothing left of us, that would still exist. That was the moment when I was no longer an atheist.”

It’s not that the other knowledge wasn’t important, but there was more. Beauty had seized her heart.

Jeffrey explained life as a dance with God, which God asks us to participate in by saying, “May I have this dance?” If we accept, Jeffrey said, we are truly living.

She then gave her all-women audience a challenge for the waiting time of Advent.

First, she said, stay awake, which means, simply, to stop and ask, “Where is beauty?” We’re to pause and look around, seeking the beauty in our midst, and to not stop until we find it, and can say, “Behold!”

With the help of Jeffrey’s beautiful perspective, it’s almost impossible to view waiting as a time of inaction. As the writer Henri Nouwen once said, waiting is not movement from nothing to something, but from something to something more.

And if we’re awake, beauty can indeed arrest us and enliven our waiting.

Roxane B. Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo.