Church for me is a tender subject, so my reflection is perhaps more personal today. However, I will still try to follow the advice of Nadia Bolz Weber and speak from my scars and not my wounds. For me, church has represented a lifetime of hurt-filled and disappointing experiences, so while parts are still healing, others healed long ago. It is from this place I write today because I still love the church. And in the adapted words of Rachel Held Evans, I want to help keep the church weird in all its best, Jesus-following ways.
I've struggled to find a church where I feel at home, where I feel I fit, and honestly where I feel like people see me. Many times when visiting a new place I feel like the awkward 8th grader with braces and the wrong clothes.
When I saw the photo below from Arts Pastor blogger and author W. David O. Taylor I was reminded of something I knew deep down but hadn't yet formed into a clear thought: when there is aesthetic beauty inside a church it conveys a sense of awe, wonder, and reveals God's bigness to me. I suddenly forget if I'm wearing the right clothes or saying the right words on time. I feel settled. I feel calm. I sense God in, around, and through me.
I long for those experiences. And yet it wasn't that long ago I was able to name what had been missing for me in my church experiences for so many years: beauty.
Each time I see or step into a cathedral or stained glass chapel I find myself unconsciously responding to the reality of God, his love through Jesus, and that we're all in this life and world together. It (quite literally at times) draws my eyes up and drains the anxiety from my shoulders. God uses beauty to hold me in his truth.
"God uses beauty to hold me in his truth."
Not all churches can meet in frescoe-d spaces, but we can be mindful of the power of aesthetics in our gathering spaces. We can invest our attention, time, and resources into fertilizing the artists and opportunities around us so beauty can grow in our midst. Perhaps it's one of the best things we can do when our ears are tired of hearing, and our messages and advertising sound increasingly so similar.
Beauty is not a luxury - it is a life sustaining necessity. I forget that truth so often until I'm again caught up in its firm hold. Let us imitate our Creator and make our church, our communities, and our world beautiful again.