Guest Writer Isabel Anders
Swan Lake Surprise Transfiguration
“[The prince] had seen that small and seemingly powerless actions, or simple coalitions of light, sound, and color, can be supremely powerful in regard to the soul of a man, and can take him to other worlds. And he had seen that, though sometimes hidden, they exist in this world in legions, in armies, in multitudes. I am sure that when he saw the swans gliding around the point [rising in a gold-and-white column] he apprehended another realm, as one sometimes does, and was ready to follow, far into oblivion, wherever it led in darkness or in light.”
Swan Lake, Mark Helprin and Chris Van Allsburg (N. Y. Ariel Books, 1989, pp. 72-73).
“There are certain great and beautiful things that to all appearances find defeat in this world. All proof, all reason, show them to have fallen, and as often as not our hope is merely our punishment. But in this world there are as well wrenching and great surprises that take us beyond what we can reason and what we can prove” (p. 79).
I recently reread the wonderful telling of Swan Lake by Mark Helprin, author of Winter’s Tale (1983), with stunning illustrations by Chris Van Allsburg, and the above passages struck me as reminiscent of the disciples’ presence at Jesus’ Transfiguration, as well as many other experiences and revelations of beauty in Scripture that seem to be pivot points of faith.
A. M. Allchin has written: “The communion of saints is never an abstract or ethereal thing … it is rooted in this earth, in places where people have lived and loved, and seen the glory of God shining out in the common light of every day.”
And Simone Weil, who urges attention to the material world, writes in Gravity and Grace: “The mind is not forced to believe in the existence of anything … the only organ of contact with existence is acceptance, love. That is why beauty and reality are identical. That is why joy and the sense of reality are identical.”
It seems that a prayer for more experiences of beauty has important implications for Christians—for all of us desiring to continue in the life of faith, in awe and longing for its destination.
Managing Editor, Synthesis Publications