I was upstairs in my bedroom attempting to pray when my attention was caught by the laughter of my children downstairs. The sound immediately compelled me to thank God for the wonder of laughter. The spontaneous and often uncontrollable expression of joy when something affects our hearts and makes us feel joyful. To hear the laughter of my children is one of my favourite sounds in the world, it is the sound of joy and freedom, perhaps the perfect expression of how we feel when His Kingdom comes fully and everything is restored to how it should be. For “Joy is the serious business of heaven” as C.S. Lewis put it.
But then it got me thinking about how we are to make sense of laughter if, as many people will contest, we are nothing more than sophisticated animals whose feelings are the result of mere chemical reactions. It is the view point that denies the existence of God, or a spiritual realm and a spiritual element in us. A spiritual core which is the centre of who we really are and the centre of our will, desires and deepest commitments. Or as the bible puts it our ‘heart’.
The same question can be asked of anything that is beautiful. Just yesterday I spent the afternoon wandering in a beech forest carpeted with bluebells. I was drawn there to take photographs but after a period of searching for an image to take I felt compelled to simply sit down and soak it in. The spring air was warm, the new spring leaves a bright green, the dappled light shimmered as the trees moved in the wind, the scent of the bluebells delicate and the bird song a constant chorus neither distractingly loud nor too quiet. It felt transcendent.
Beauty can come in many forms. We can be deeply moved by a great piece of music, or great work or art, or a story of pain and suffering. Such moments can lead even a secular person to use the term “spiritual” to explain the reaction. Leonard Bernstein once admitted that when he heard great music he sensed “Heaven”. He said “Beethoven has the real goods, the stuff from Heaven, the power to make you feel at the finish: something is right in the world. There is something that checks throughout, the follows its own law consistently: something we can trust, that will never let us down”.
But if we do not believe that we have a spiritual ‘heart’ then what are we to make of our reactions to beauty? That they are nothing more than a series of reactions in our brain that helped our forebears stay alive and that have been passed down to us in our genes? Alas, if such a secular view is true then all that is beautiful in this world is but an illusion. If we have been swept up by the joy or a glorious sunset or reduced to tears by the ending of a great film, it will tear the moment from us to think that our reaction is simply a chemical reaction that helped our ancestors find food or escape predators.
To think of ourselves without a ‘heart’, a heart which is sensitive to the abundant beauty of God’s creation, is to see the world in black and white.
If the power of beauty only makes sense when we accept we have a ‘heart’ then what of love? Can the type of love that compels us to the extremes of self-sacrifice be nothing more than our bodies natural ability to survive and thrive? I think not. Anyone that has suffered a broken heart will testify that there are no medical remedies, no treatments that can alleviate the symptoms. For the ‘heart’ is the very core of who we are.
As I sat alone in the forest with my senses full of the beauty of creation, the sight, smells and sounds, there felt no other appropriate response than to thank God. For I believe such moments feel transcendent because they are transcendent. The experience is the response of our hearts to the living God. For our hearts are the meeting place between us and God and the movements of our hearts are often reactions to the presence of His beauty. It is one of the ways in which He communicates with us.
I may not have taken any photographs that I was especially excited about yesterday, but I did return home content and feeling a little more restored in some way.
Grid Ref is intended to help re-orientate men along the narrow path and are a mixture of personal testimonies and reflections from the A&D Team.