A Hymn to Beauty, the Transcendent Gift from God

In our own times, it appears that silence is both feared and despised.

One of the great Christian apologists of the 20th century was C.S. Lewis. In his short work, Screwtape Letters, he uses the fictional medium of a series of letters written by a senior devil, Screwtape, to one of his apprentice demons, Wormwood, a dark counterpart to those heavenly beings we call Guardian Angels. The demon, Wormwood, is assigned to a human “patient” with the duty to draw him to hell gradually, through the temptations of the world.

In Letter 22, Screwtape warns Wormwood that he has let his “patient” fall in love with a virginal Christian woman from a good Christian family whose entire house is “full of disinterested love and full of beautiful music and beautiful silence.” In doing so, he has let his “patient” come into the “Enemy’s” territory. Screwtape hates beauty because it is from the “Enemy,” his ironic term for God who is the source of all that is truly beautiful.

Screwtape tells Wormwood that he longs to turn the house, indeed the whole universe, into a place of clamorous noise, and while he is writing these words, he apparently becomes so filled with rage at the potential loss of this “patient” to the Enemy through all of this beauty and music and beautiful silence, that he transforms into a giant centipede, an even more deformed creature than he already is and has to dictate the rest of his letter to another demon.

In our own times, it appears that silence is both feared and despised. Much of what goes for music today is really little more than “noise” both in its decibels and in its messages. And much of what goes for beauty in the arts today, is incomprehensible, bland, and empty distortions of beauty. Our cities are places of clamor, endless motion, and noise.

This environment of noise has become the norm for most. Even many of our churches are filled with noise and distracting “entertainment” disguised as worship and praise. Lewis’ Screwtape would be squirming with pleasure at this. Lewis’ insight was profound. Fill the world with chaos, remove the sacred wonder of silence, destroy or distort beauty of every kind and we become dis-eased, discomforted, filled with unresolved, unrecognized tensions. We enter the realm of hell, rather than that of heaven.

We need to develop habits that help to take us apart from the noise we are surrounded by in this present age. This would be the habits of prayer, of consciously seeking out and being in the presence of beauty in natural or humanly created art and music. It is in silence, that God speaks to us, as he did to Elijah at the mouth of the cave not in the earthquake but in the whispering breeze. Beauty is of God. Silence empowers us to listen and to hear God’s ever-present voice. Silence and beauty lift our minds, our hearts and our souls up to God and out of the confining prison of our egos. This is Lewis’ great insight; these things and God’s grace help us to defeat the efforts of hell to take us away from God.

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