The Indigo Girls have a line in one of their songs that has stayed with me since I first heard it. Emily Saliers sings, This world falls on me with dreams of immortality. Everywhere I turn, all this beauty just keeps shaking me. What surprises me a bit about this line, what resonated with me, is the way beauty becomes a sort of “weight” on the soul; or, maybe it’s that beauty has an impact on the soul that almost hurts to feel. I think we experience this in part when we see, or hear, or read something so beautiful that it brings tears to our eyes. Those experiences that elicit the classic question from children, “Why are you crying if you’re happy?”
I think I found the answer to that question, at least for me, in a passage from Frederick Buechner in his memoir, The Sacred Journey. It comes at a point when Buechner is an adolescent living in Bermuda. He and a girl his age have gone for a walk and stopped to prolong the moment. I will quote at length because I find his words so thoughtful:
We were sitting side by side on a crumbling stone wall watching the Salt Kettle ferries come and go when…our bare knees happened to touch for a moment, and in that moment I was filled with such a sweet panic and anguish of longing for I had no idea what that I knew my life could never be complete until I found it…It was the upward-reaching and fathomlessly hungering, heart-breaking love for the beauty of the world at its most beautiful, and beyond that, for the beauty east of the sun and west of the moon which is past the reach of all but our most desperate desiring and is finally the beauty of Beauty itself, of Being itself and what lies at the heart of Being.”
I believe that those moments when we watch a miner surface from the dark and embrace his little boy after both thought they would never see each other again, or we stand face to face with the one we love, pledging our lives to one another and the words are hard to get out over the lumps in our throats, or we overhear a conversation of such sweet tenderness between two little kids that our hearts well up within us, those moments of beauty are the closest we come to being united with God on earth. They are a taste of the world to come. And yet, while we are still here in this life, while we are still not “there” yet, there is an “anguish of longing”, a “fathomless hungering” that is not yet filled. And so the tears flow, for both the exquisite experience of the glory of God in that moment and a quiet, but deep, yearning for the fullness of the experience yet to be. Though it may hurt a bit, here’s hoping that we may experience such heart-breaking joy at least a little bit each day.