How Do We Recognize Beauty?

Reflection written by Sr. Rosemary Finnegan, O.P.
Readings from:

In 2007, the Washington Post conducted a social experiment at a Washington, D.C. metro station.  They wanted to know this: “In a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?  Do we stop to appreciate it, or even recognize it?”

The experiment went like this:

While at the Washington metro station, a man started to play the violin.  He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. It was rush hour and about 1000 people went by him.

After a few minutes, a woman threw a dollar bill in his till without stopping. Someone else stopped for a minute to listen, then went on.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3-year-old boy who stopped, but his mother hurried him along.  The child, however, kept turning his head to listen and look at the violinist.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money, totaling $32, but continued to walk their normal pace. When he finished playing, no one noticed or applauded.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in the world who had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written. The violin he played was worth $3.5 million dollars.

Two days before playing in the subway, Joshua Bell had played to a sold-out audience in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

In our gospel, the Jews were having their own problem recognizing greatness in their midst.  They said to Jesus: “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

They just couldn’t acknowledge Christ despite the works he did, and his telling them clearly that ‘the Father and I are One’.

For us, we profess the belief that Christ walks among us and that we live in Him and He in us.  But do we recognize him even in those who are different from us?  Or in someone or some event we wouldn’t expect?  Do we acknowledge the extraordinary beauty of God around us, or take it for granted, or even ignore it, like the people did in that train station who barely noticed Joshua Bell?

St. Damien of Moloki saw Christ in the most severely deformed and outcast lepers and served them faithfully.  Perhaps today we are being asked to ponder this:  In our own lives, do we notice, or do we ignore, Christ in others, or the grace and beauty of God at work in the many events of our daily lives?