One day, when I was about seven, I was sitting in the living room of my family’s apartment, while my mom was playing her harp. She had begun playing the harp as a girl, and although she never performed, she still played at home. I was used to her playing, and generally took it for granted. On this occasion, however, I remember sitting there and listening to her play – if I remember right, it was Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” – as the sunlight was streaming through the arcadia glass door into the room. What absolutely mesmerized me, though, were the dust motes floating across the beam of light. Maybe because of the music, it seemed that they were sort of dancing in the air. Besides providing a fond memory of my mother, this event, as I remember it, created a nostalgic love in me at once for “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” beams of sunlight, and dust motes.
Later, I remember a time when I was playing outside with a boy my age. He suddenly stopped whatever he was doing, and asked if we could go listen to my mom play the harp. That was the first time it occurred to me that having a mother who played the harp was something extraordinary. Similarly, only as an adult, I’ve had the thought that even what I beheld in those sun-bathed dust motes might have been something extraordinary, even glorious.
In retrospect, it seems that what I glimpsed that day was a fleeting vision of the glory of God in creation. Previously, it had seemed that there was a lot of empty space in the world, at least wherever there was air. Now what I saw suggested that every cubic inch of the universe is teeming with activity. Where I had thought there was nothing at all, there now appeared to be some kind of a cosmic dance. Everything, everywhere, is vibrant with divine energy, divine glory. Indeed, as we say in the prayer, “O Heavenly King,” the Holy Spirit is “everywhere present, filling all things.”
The kind of awakening to profound and unexpected beauty that I had is not unique. One friend of mine described an earliest memory, possibly from infancy, of lying on the ground under a tree and looking up to see the sunlight streaming through the branches. It might be safe to speculate that at some point in each person’s life – or perhaps at many points – there is this glimpse of the glory of God, which C.S. Lewis described as being “surprised by joy.”
Often, though, we long for that glimpse without getting it. There is a stunning discrepancy between that vision, blissful and harmonious, and the disjointed and grimy experiences we may have in life. We are appalled by this discrepancy. Many people spend their lives trying to recapture the experience; one seeks to recreate it through art, another through ambitious achievement; many simply try in vain to find anything to alleviate the burning hunger for that glory.
Blessed is the Christian who knows both the Cause of that glory and the reason for the discrepancy. Indeed, the created world is pulsating with the Creator’s love; it is ready to reveal that love to those with eyes to see and ears to hear. We are blind men, though, blind because we have rejected that love through sin, because of which our “foolish hearts were darkened.”(Rom. 1:21) God, in His unfathomable mercy, allows us to wander tearfully through the darkness of our own making, until we come to desire more than anything else once again to behold His face and to hear His voice. Yet, even in our darkness, He never leaves us without witnesses to the light: in the worship of the Church, in the inspired words of His apostles, in the lives of His holy servants, and even in the dust motes dancing in the sunlight.