Saved by Beauty

By Steven Norris

I think that I could have stood before the van Gogh original all day. Was it the swirl of colors across the canvas? Was it the way the artist captured the light playing on the subject? In the beauty of oil on canvas, I was pretty sure that I was hearing echoes of the creative hands of God shaping the world from nothingness. In that moment of beauty, I felt transported and my eyes opened to see the world in a new way.

Art has the capacity to bypass the mundane and usher us into moments of both transcendence and profound self-reflection. Whether it be a painting, music, or poetry, art can be a vehicle to cut through the noise of the ordinary and pierce the soul.

Jesus understood this creative potential. It’s why his primary teaching strategy was through parables — short stories that sparked the imagination and fueled the soul for transformation. In John 8, the religious leaders are out to trap Jesus. They bring him a woman who, it was reported, was “caught in the act of adultery.” According to the law, she should be stoned.

Jesus doesn’t take the bait. Instead, in a moment of creative brilliance, he bends down and begins to scribble in the sand with his finger. What did he write? We will never know. What we do know, however, is that this moment created space for the crowd to reflect on the transformative potential in Jesus’ words: “He who is without sin may cast the first stone.”

A creative pause. A sand drawing. It was a beautiful moment of artistic brilliance. Jesus’ response held up a mirror to the crowd, forcing them to see themselves — to see the entire world around them — with a new set of eyes. One by one, they dropped their stones and walked away.

Jesus’ response likewise challenged the woman to see herself in a new way. “Where are your accusers?” he asked. They were gone, nowhere to be found. “Neither do I condemn you,” he said, providing this demeaned and shamed woman a chance to see herself through the lens of divine love.

I cannot help but think that the world needs art and beauty right now more than ever. Politics does not have the power to save us. Philosophical debates only seem to further entrench us in our respective corners. Theology has often reduced the spiritual life to little more than intellectual assent to abstract doctrine. But beauty and art…

Beauty may be the only thing left that can pierce the calloused shell we’ve created for ourselves in order to survive the past twelve months. So, my invitation is twofold: To the artists in our community, please keep creating like our world depends on it. To my fellow neighbors, let us pause long enough to drink in the beauty, be reminded of who we truly are, and find the absolute wonder and joy of living.