When they told him this, Ransom at last understood why mythology was what it was - gleams of celestial strength and beauty falling on a jungle of filth and imbecility. - Perelandra, C.S. Lewis
How often have you found yourself out at a movie or watching the television, perhaps just flipping through channels in the hopes of finding "something good," and you actually find it?
Does it grab you? Is it like the sensation C.S. Lewis describes above? A new power descends and lifts you up... a fragrance you once knew and loved returns and floods your mind? For me, it seems so often I stumble through the media with boots on, wading through the equivalent of sewage, and then fresh water comes in like a stream from the mountains. And I know I've found the Good Stuff...
Shawshank Redemption is good stuff. It's the film based on a Stephen King novella (he sold the movie rights for $1 to writer/director Frank Darabont): a heart-wrenching work with themes of endurance in the midst of suffering, hoping against hope, and the heart's yearning for beauty and freedom.
There's a scene I love where Andy Dufresne, the falsely accused prisoner, sneaks into the warden's office and blasts a Mozart aria on the record player. He sets it in front of the microphone so that the music pours through the loudspeakers, soaring over the prison like the hymn of angels. The tough, grey-faced men in the yard all lift up their heads and listen, as innocent and open again as children. For so long they have been in darkness, now a light from some "undiscovered country" dawns.
Morgan Freeman plays the character Red, a kind of narrator throughout the movie. He remembers the scene: "I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't want to know. Some things are better left unsaid. I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can't be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was as if some beautiful bird had flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free."
We know beauty when we see it, hear it, taste or touch it. We are made for beauty, and beauty is clean, pure, and good. Beauty is a gift. It's really what the human heart craves more than anything. I firmly believe that deep down, in this culture so full of noise and distraction, greed and grasping, madness and materialism, we all pine for the fresh water of Beauty to wash over us. And it's out there, in a million different places. As the Bible says, "Open wide your mouth and I will fill it." Like little birds we can turn to our Lord and let Him feed us.
Pope Benedict just published his letter for the 41st World Communications Day. In it he said "Beauty, a kind of mirror of the divine, inspires and vivifies young hearts and minds, while ugliness and coarseness have a depressing impact on attitudes and behaviour... Media education should be positive. Children exposed to what is aesthetically and morally excellent are helped to develop appreciation, prudence and the skills of discernment."
He continues; "Any trend to produce programs and products - including animated films and video games - which in the name of entertainment exalt violence and portray anti-social behaviour or the trivialization of human sexuality is a perversion, all the more repulsive when these programs are directed at children and adolescents..."
Above all, God wants to give us beauty, truth, and goodness. He is the very fullness of all three! And the Church desires to share with us a vision of human dignity! We are made for eternity, and for housing within us eternal truths! Like a mother, the Church knows what is best for us and she lays out a table of rich food and drink; this banquet of beauty, truth, and goodness is the meal that will really satisfy us! Much (by no means all) of what the media culture has been offering us is junk food, fast food. Let's try and shut down the pipes that are pouring the wrong stuff into our nice, clean living rooms. Let's turn to the rich and ever-growing, overflowing streams of Beauty that are coming from so many directions; art, music, poetry, prayer. What a rich history we have in the Church! Looking to Her, we never need to go hungry.
Looking for that aria that was played in Shawshank Redemption?
Here is the opera in it's entirety.
And here's the single aria on iTunes.
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