"It's so beautiful that it hurts me," said Anne softly. "Perfect things like that always did hurt me—I remember I called it 'the queer ache' when I was a child. What is the reason that pain like this seems inseparable from perfection? Is it the pain of finality—when we realise that there can be nothing beyond but retrogression?"
"Perhaps," said Owen dreamily, "it is the prisoned infinite in us calling out to its kindred infinite as expressed in that visible perfection."~ Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne's House of Dreams
Autumn. Merely the word itself evokes waking to a crisp dawn, catching the scent of leaves and the tang of woodsmoke in the air. It is the time for apple cider and pumpkin bread, sweaters and long walks on clear sunny afternoons to see ochre and copper hues painting the landscape. Autumn holds some of my most cherished memories in her crinkly hands. Her cool, sunny days inspire me to study, to write, to read poetry, to dream and hope more deeply, to do new things, to bake, to dare to become fully alive. I practically skip on my walks, and prance to work. My soul cannot help feeling awake. When our souls are thus awake and aware, we are more attuned to the 'queer ache' of Beauty.
This morning I decided to take a jaunt to one of my favourite overlooks in Manitou. While collecting many shapes and shades of leaves, I wound my way up the back streets, stopping to smell the last of Summer's blooms. I stood as close to the edge of the overlook as I could. Grey clouds poured over the closest ridge of foothills, veiling the sun for a time. In the filtered light I beheld russet scrub oak, burnished aspens, deep green firs, and the majestic crest of Pikes Peak with a hoary mantle of snow.
The pang of Beauty brought tears to my eyes, not because of what they saw, but because I felt hungry for something I cannot yet sink my teeth into. C. S. Lewis called it 'joy', Sheldon Vanauken labelled it 'Beauty', and Solomon called it 'eternity': "[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end." (Eccl. 3.11)
I am inclined to believe the pain of Beauty is the infinite part of us (our spirit), longing for the Infinite Himself and a fully redeemed world. The pain comes because we are still under the curse, even if we have received the Cure. I return to what I pondered today: does God ever feel the ache of Beauty? I am tempted to say, "Surely not, He is the Infinite our spirit longs for, after all". Yet when I began to ponder this earlier, I wondered if the pain we feel in yearning for God (the Beautiful) Himself is akin to what He feels when He holds out His arms to us and we walk away (Isaiah 62.2-3). It is as if the Infinite calls out to the eternity, or infinite, in our hearts and we turn away. Surely that is as wounding as longing for the Infinite, but being unable to enter fully into that Infinity.
This is speculation on my part, as God is not a fallen human and does not come at things in a broken manner. I am still learning to think His thoughts after Him, rather than assuming He thinks like I do. I am still being healed of my brokenness, He has never been 'broken' in the sense of being fallen. What I do know is that the more attuned I am to let Beauty lead me to God, the more often I hear Him speak. Though there is an intense longing for the Infinite that cannot currently be fulfilled, I would rather have the stabs of Beauty to remind me that I am awake and that God exists.
“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”
— C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
~ Johanna (13 October 2012)