By Jessica Lincoln, Benedictine College
In order to know God, we must encounter the Person of God, and this often occurs in unexpected places. For me, this encounter sometimes is sometimes facilitated through the world of a famous wizard with a lightning scar: Harry Potter. Garrigou-Lagrange rightly states that “the just man’s knowledge of the indwelling Godhead is not discursive”.1 Any knowledge we may have of God cannot come from studying, reason, or mere thinking about God. We have to experience Him alive inside of us and alive in the world around us. This primarily occurs through our encounters with Beauty. This is the experience I have when I listen to the music from the world of Harry Potter. What is it like? It is like becoming human again, or perhaps for the first time. Listening to it, I touch something otherwise intangible, and with a great stirring of emotion within me, as if something long forgotten has come back to life. In short, it is the awakening of my inner, sleeping self. When I listen to this music, I feel.
Our faith may not be about feeling God, but it is often within the context of feeling and emotions that we have an encounter. Even one who does not know Christ cannot help but feel something upon hearing the flute’s longing call in John Williams’ “A Window to the Past,” used in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Importantly, hearing such beauty could be the space for an encounter that someone has with Christ – perhaps for the very first time, perhaps for the thousandth first time. The point is, the beauty found within this song is something tangible: in it, we recognize the form of beauty. Furthermore, by choosing to place ourselves in situations where we will be able to encounter beauty, we give our faith a chance to come alive again.
Moreover, it is possible, and in fact necessary, to take this experience as something more than its simple face value. Balthasar tells us that “form would not be beautiful unless it were fundamentally a sign and appearing of a depth of fulness that, in themselves and in an abstract sense, remain both beyond our reach and our vision”.2 The very reason we are able to experience beauty is because it is a point of contact with Beauty Himself. The beauty we experience sensibly is a sacrament of the living Christ – that is, it makes present the otherwise insensible reality of Christ’s presence. To hear something beautiful and then move on is not enough; we must recognize that it is beautiful because it is an encounter with Christ, and we must be moved by that beauty.
The way we live our lives as Christians should be radically different because of the encounter we have had. Of course, we need to have this encounter every single day – it does me no good to have encountered Him yesterday if I do not encounter Him today – but we also need to allow this encounter to change our lives. From the moment they met Jesus, John and Andrew were changed. The same is true of all the other saints, and the same needs to be true of us, as well. This is the reason that beauty is so important: while truth and goodness on their own may not move someone, wonder and awe nearly always will. It is necessary that I give myself to the beautiful once I experience it, and in this way, I place my life in the hands of the beautiful God. I must give God permission to move me and give myself freedom to be moved.
I am beginning to understand the importance of an encounter with beauty as an encounter with the living Christ. When I listen to the beautiful music of Harry Potter, I am moved – not because of the music itself, but because of the thing to which it truly points me: Christ. To experience beauty is to experience Christ. I need only recognize Him in it as He is.
- Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Love of God and the Cross of Jesus V1, trans. Jeanne Marie (St. Louis: B.
Herder Book Co., 1947), 154.
- Garrigou-Lagrange, 115.