by Christine Sunderland
I have long been fascinated with the relationship between beauty, truth, and goodness. One of the joys of being a novelist is that I can create characters who share my fascinations. So in my recently published novel, The Magdalene Mystery, a protagonist is devoted to truth in the media and correcting Internet lies. He is also fascinated by the role of art in society – its “use” and its “abuse,” as the scholar Jacques Barzun so aptly described the problem in his brilliant collection of essays, The Use and Abuse of Art.
Art, of course, borders beauty, and beauty, I would think, is a close neighbor of goodness. While they are not the same, they inhabit one another. As Christian artists, we are in the beauty business as well as the goodness and truth business. We see all three in our triune God of love and we revel in his originally beautiful, good, and true creation, just as we bask in his love.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, folks say. Beauty is skin deep, some say: “She is beautiful inside too.” Beauty touches us deeply in some mysterious way, whether it be physical or behavioral. We admire beauty because it opens a window to heaven. It is as though heaven has reached out to us from the unique brush strokes on a canvas or a phrase on a page or a melody in a composition.
Goodness is beautiful, and true beauty is good. For true beauty – that is a person infused with love for others – reflects God and his love for us.
Whether in a sonnet, a novel, a painting, or a concerto, Christian artists must open that window to heaven by reflecting heaven. We are painters of hope not despair. While it is true that evil and suffering have their place in our stories, as catalysts for true conflict, the wholeness of the work must conquer the chaos of unbelief with the order of belief, yes, the beauty of ordered, reasonable belief, for we live in an ordered universe, governed by natural law and redeemed by love.
It is no surprise that much of the art today in every medium reflects a culture of despair, of deep darkness, of pain and suffering, of evil. We as Christian artists stand apart from this culture. We live within our own faith communities; we reflect a culture of hope, one where God’s spirit weaves through us, comforting and strengthening, ordering us aright. And as we reflect the hope we are promised in Scripture – a loving God who walked on earth among us so that we could rise with him to heaven – we offer beauty through art to the greater world. We, in this sense, baptize our readers with goodness and truth. We dip them in the font of our pages, and mark them with a cross with our words.
We offer our readers glimpses of heaven, or at least open a window or better, a door to heaven. We offer them resurrection.
I have found that music, especially music composed in times of Christian belief (pre-twentieth century), transports me, pulls me into transcendence. And so, my hero in my novel-in-progress, The Fire Trail, is transported by Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, the “Emperor” Concerto, just as I am when I listen to the cascading notes and the counterpoint echoing harmonic chords. My hero is not a Christian, but because he is transported by beauty he dwells on the borders of belief. Without knowing it, he knows God. He is also in love with love. He memorizes sonnets. He watches for his beloved to suddenly appear. Without knowing it, he is experiencing the love of God.
As Christian writers in an unbelieving age we offer the world beauty. When we infuse beauty with goodness, with the suffering love of God, we offer the world the only hope that banishes despair.
We offer our readers resurrection through beauty, so they can know the true resurrection of Easter.
Christine Sunderland is author of five award-winning novels: Pilgrimage, set in Italy, Offerings, set in France, Inheritance, set England, Hana-lani, set in Hawaii, and The Magdalene Mystery, a quest for the true Mary Magdalene, set in Rome and Provence (all OakTara). She serves as Managing Editor for the American Church Union. Visit Christine at www.ChristineSunderland.com (website and blog) or Fiction Finder.