I am a Protestant but I admire the beauty of the other two major divisions in Christianity (Orthodoxy and Catholicism). If I lived in a big city near a major Orthodox or Catholic cathedral that really did things well, I would visit services just to soak in the beauty of the buildings, the atmosphere, the music and everything else.
As an aside, most of you know of the beauty in Catholicism but here in the West, we do not hear so much about Orthodoxy which is predominant in the Eastern countries such as Russia and Greece. If you have been to a Catholic cathedral but never a major Orthodox cathedral, just know that they are comparable in ornateness, though Orthodoxy puts heavy emphasis on pictures (icons) rather than statutes. (See the picture.) As far as I know, we have nothing even close to either in Protestantism except some Anglican cathedrals (such as St. Paul’s in London).
Now most of you are Protestants and I know that what I just wrote made some of you uncomfortable. You consider Catholicism and Orthodoxy problematic within Christianity and possibly not truly Christian at all. I get that and I have my own theological problems with both but that does not mean they don’t understand beauty.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand why Protestants avoid the ornate beauty of big cathedrals. That was at least at one point a theological decision and a reaction to often-corrupt excesses within Catholicism. I also understand that there is beauty in simple buildings and simple things. And I understand that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. I hold the idea of “absolute beauty” very loosely if at all. I don’t know if I even believe in the concept of universal beauty. It is all a tricky thing.
Here is a principle for life though: your life will be richer if you can find the beauty in it.
I got up late last Saturday, made breakfast for the family on my outdoor griddle and then sat down in front of the TV planning to watch Game Day on ESPN. On my way through the channels, I stumbled onto the John McCain funeral and immediately forgot about football. I was mesmerized by the beauty I saw and instantly recognized.
I looked at the National Cathedral, which I have never visited but is clearly an Anglican replica of a late Gothic-era cathedral, and I saw beauty.
I listened to the choir and congregation sing a few well-known hymns and I saw beauty. (As an aside, I enjoyed watching Bill Clinton belting out “How Great Thou Art.”)
I admired the pomp and expertise of the US Military and I saw beauty.
I saw a real and pure patriotism on exhibit that McCain lived (as opposed to the shallow patriotism debates that consume politics and cable news today) and I felt beauty.
I watched two former rivals (Bush and Obama) put aside fierce slights of the past to graciously eulogize McCain and I saw beauty.
I listened to Renee Fleming sing a simple rendition of “Danny Boy” and I heard beauty.
I noticed two very different people (George Bush and Michelle Obama) sitting beside each other and sharing laughs and mints and I saw beauty.
Now did I see things in that two hours that were not beautiful? Yes I did. Though I am not going to say what they were, a few things annoyed me. However, what I am going to remember in ten years about that funeral was its beauty.
I posted about the beauty of that service later on my Facebook page and immediately found myself deleting nasty comments and attacks from a bunch of people who apparently did not see what I saw. They were focused on different things. They are consumed with those things and bitter about those things and even though I explicitly asked that no one bring their political axe to the discussion, many could not help themselves. And several of them left that page in a noisy fashion because I had the audacity to point out beauty in a funeral service of a man they apparently hate. (I have not lost any sleep over their exits.)
Guys, I am preaching to myself here too. It is too easy to get caught up in non-beautiful things but our lives will be deeper and richer if we can avoid that trap. Intentionally look for beauty in your life and minimize things that distract you from that quest.
I will give you a hint: cable news and your favorite political radio talk show host will not help you find beauty. Turn that off and you will be a better and happier person. Don’t exchange the non-beautiful for the beautiful.
I need to say the same thing here that I said on my FB post: this post is about beauty, not politics. Don’t post political stuff here because it will be deleted. Don’t say “It was beautiful but…..” Spare us your “buts.” If you absolutely have to take your shots, send me a private email but know up front that I already am familiar with your “buts,” have quite probably already rejected them, and your chance of changing my mind by regurgitating your favorite radio host’s talking points is precisely zero. I am just sayin… 🙂