It is nearly impossible to underestimate how tired, grieving, regretful, even despairing people are when they walk into the church for worship. There is, of course, great joy and happiness in many lives. We are that marbled rye of existence in which we have both the light of joys and the dark of loss.
We live in a society in which social convention demands that when asked how we are doing, we lie. We are, by living this way, protecting the person with whom we are speaking from social discomfort and we are maintaining valuable boundaries. Who knows if this person who has just asked me how I am (“How are you today?”) has the social, spiritual, emotional or relational skill-set to deal with my real answer? How long do we have here, because I could spend eight hours telling you my story – do you really want to hear it or are you being polite? Will you respond to my tender story with emotional intelligence or will you take one of the less helpful tacks like…
“Oh, you think that is bad!? I have had it much worse…” or the classic passive but vapid
“Well, bless your heart.” or the aggressive
“ But you are great, we are gonna go make this right immediately!”
…when all that was needed was for one person to tell their story to another person and have them pay attention – retain eye contact – and not look at their cell phone – ever.
The power of a church – especially a very beautiful church, is that it sets the stage for intimacy with God. Terrible horrors in life – and we all have them festering underneath our carefully constructed costumes of impressiveness – terrible horrors in life can be carried if there is some beauty around. Beauty can soothe the soul. This is why the poverty of people living in urban ghettoes is trifold. The poverty of want, the poverty of relation and the tertiary poverty of sight – that is the lack of beauty.
This icon is the first one I had written by my friend Costos Zouvelos in Greece. He did it for me when I entered the monastery of the Society of St, John The Evangelist and the same saint is the patron saint of the cathedral in which I now minister. It is the classic icon of the celts because it celebrates intimacy with Jesus. It is also beautiful. It glows with an orange which sometimes seems other-worldly.
It is nearly impossible to underestimate how much grief and loss people carry around within them. Our society – even our churches- have few effective tools to help them tell their story and feel safe weeping healing tears. When I meet with people I am amazed at how quickly they weep. It is holy ground. But I believe that the power of beauty can relax us into the power of intimacy with Jesus and with each other. Beauty seems to “drop our shields” as fans of Start Trek might say. The eyes are the light of the soul says the psalms.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night,” darkness is not dark to you, O Lord; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.