This is such a simple story. It’s not too long past, maybe 4 years ago, and I remember it each time, like the first. I worked at a church. We were a new church, not many of us. We only met at night and shared a building with an old, dying RCA congregation in Grand Rapids. The building itself was beautiful, by reasonable human estimation.
Each Sunday, I would get to church about 3pm and begin to set up and rearrange for our 6 o’clock service. Each week I took a deep breath before entering the building and I resolved not to rush, whatever got done, was good enough for that service. I never kept that promise to myself. Each week, like clockwork, I was swept up, first slowly and reluctantly then with abandon, in the tasks and unfinisheds. I would move from task to task at an honest run on most weeks as we neared service time. Each duty crossed off the list, inevitably, was replaced by two more.
Since our services were only at night, it was often dark, or at least dusk as we began, and surely as we ended our worship. But not on this Sunday. There was something changed in my spiritual geography this week. As I run up the stairs in the front, two (maybe even three, for it was nearly 6 o’clock) at a time, I absently glanced up at the stained glass window before me, a window that I never looked at, no time for it. And I was stopped heavy in my tracks in front of the display of light in the window. Had I been conscious enough to form a thought, it would have been “Why is there light in that window? Is it summer already?” The veil being lifted as it was, I was able to neither speak nor think… nor move. I stood, gazing at the muted colors of glass, and entranced by the fresh green leaves from the tree outside, clinging to the window’s edges in a perfect frame. Though the waves and colors of the glass subdued the light and everything else outside, it could not hush the leaves. No, they nearly glowed their green selves right through the glass. They were still and silent and insistent that I notice them as they seemed to force themselves not only into the building but into my spirit too.
I slowly crept up to the top of the stairs and gingerly placed my finger tips against the sillohetes of the green leaves. I felt the heat and light and depth of color behind the glass. All at once, I remembered two things. Fist, I had once again broken my weekly promise to slow down. Second, there is a reality that is other, fuller, brighter and more God, than this one that I live in. There is a God. God is here, and God is not here. Finally, I thought one word, “beauty.” And I realized that there is a veil which separates, only lightly, the world we live in and the world of angels and shining restoration. That moment I began a quest to ponder beauty. I wonder if all beauty, not things attractive or compelling, enticing or sensual, but all things truly beautiful, each view of beauty, is a glimpse behind this veil. I wonder if all the beauty that connects us emotionally to something bigger or heavier or sadder or better, or the beauty that connects us to ourselves, is a thin place, a small pinhole, or an open streaming floodgate into the world that is true reality.