I was walking along the east bank of the Tiber River toward the Ponte Cavour. In the early calm of eventide, the poplars lining the street shed their leaves as a mild November breeze scattered them across cobblestone streets. I think I caught a glimpse of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck sitting on a perch across the way. The sky was pristine and black.
Somewhere in the not-so-distant there was music; a choir, a haunting refrain, an unknown tune. Where was that music coming from? It could have been coming from anywhere. Beauty leaned into my soul. I leaned against a wall. Listening, I journeyed somewhere: upward, downward, sideways, inward, outward. I lost sense of time. That’s why they call it the “Eternal City.”
I dream about that night often. But I never hear the music. Just when I think I’m about to hear the angelic voices and the haunting refrain, the dream stops. I wake up feeling deflated, with a longing to hear it again; will I ever hear the song again? God knows I’ve searched for it on YouTube and Google; there’s a lot of music in the world, it’s hard to search it all. Maybe I’m not supposed to find it. Hopefully, it will find me some day.
And, like the poplar leaves that fell and skipped across the cobble stone only to disappear into darkness, like the vision of Hepburn and Peck perched on a stoop, the music, the evening, Eternity’s sudden appearing in time seems reluctant to appear again. There’s nothing I seem to be able to do about it. It was a gift. The Lord passed by, and like Job sitting in his ashes, the hearing of the ears alerted me to the fact that I had just seen God with my own eyes.
I don’t know if this happens to you, but sometimes it happens to me: why does the Lord reveal himself only to retreat again into hiddenness? Why does a momentary experience of beauty lead to an even longer duration of absence? Why does the answer lead to a new set of questions?
Christianity is a revealed religion, and when I was studying philosophy back in my undergraduate days, that statement was meant to be taken as a derogatory one: lacking in logic, silly, nonsensical, superstitious. Today I take pride in the statement. Yes, Christianity is revealed religion. And this is the time of year that we are most attuned to the dynamics of revelation. Goodness, truth, and beauty are hidden in the depths of the created order; they find us as we go through life, happy-go-lucky without a care in the world.
We search for happiness, but happiness eludes us—until one day, our defenses are down, and it finds us. We question, but we don’t know what we don’t know; one day the answer finds us. We run to God, we run away from God, and when we finally stop running, we are found by God. We are like the prophet Job—we are Job—sitting in this pile of ashes (creation), staring at the chaos, what’s the meaning of it all? Where is God in this? And then the Lord raises Job’s chin a bit higher, “Look up, look beyond the horizon, what do you see?” Who do you see?
Truth, goodness, and beauty reveal themselves like a constellation of stars: “it was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations, reveal themselves one star at a time.” Can you make the constellations appear? Can I make the constellations appear? No, you and I can’t. We need to be content with numbering ourselves among the average Joes and those holy-insignificants who “were in the fields keeping watch over their flock by night.”
We just have to be willing enough to be there, deaf enough to hear it, and blind enough to see it.