I have been in the circle when it happens. A voice offers and sustains a sound; another adds a variant, a different pitch, a different timbre; then another, and so forth. But then, everyone already accounted, the sounds swell and coalesce into something beyond all the parts. Everyone hears the moment, knows it, experiences it, holds it. The moment ends, but the experience continues in shared silence. Then someone reverently breaks the silence to acknowledge what everyone feels: “That was church.”
There may be a hundred ways to explain why people sacralize such times and places—why a tree-lined clearing becomes a cathedral, a park bench with a friend a temple, or an otherwise mundane church service an encounter with holiness. We may wave it away as reminiscence, analyze its psychology, reduce it to physics. But clinic and oscilloscope grasp religious or aesthetic experience no better than words about muscles and follicles comprehend the sensation of goose bumps.
Each time perfection presses against our worried, wearied, wrinkled world, we pause and take note. Morality constantly accuses or excuses us, as Paul says it in Romans. Beauty overwhelms us from above and below, as David sings it in the 8th Psalm. When we resonate with their presence—when we admit an encounter with truth, beauty, rightness is more than passing by a façade—we are pressing our ear to eternity’s door, cupping our hands to see with squinted eyes through dark panes into a holy place.
An Old Testament professor, David Brooks, reminded me a week ago of a preacher’s declaration 3,000 years ago: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
To a week in time listening for the eternal—in the sounds we hear, the sights we see, and the people we serve.