Feb 20 2012

The Beauty of Greatness

Category: Beauty,God,musicamuzikman @ 2:11 am

I am inclined to think of greatness (or excellence if you will)  and beauty as sometimes synonymous.  There is a particular kind of beauty displayed and sensed when something is done with unparalleled excellence, something performed, created, written or otherwise constructed with an instantly recognizable quality that surpasses the very best that most of us could ever hope to accomplish.

We are all guilty of using descriptive adjectives in our everyday language that casually exaggerate the quality of what we are describing.  Words like awesome, great, amazing, spectacular, and glorious seem to roll off our tongues with daily frequency to the point of meaninglessness.  We say, “I just met a great guy”, but how many truly great people do we ever meet in our lifetime?  Pity the word, “awesome”, it never had a chance.  Once the word became idiomatic for virtually anything someone liked or thought of as “cool” it became a word without meaning beyond a general statement of approval.  How many times in our lives have we ever come in contact with something or someone that really deserves the descriptive, “awesome”?

The word “glory” has met a similar fate within the church, I fear.  We ascribe glory to God in word and in song with seldom a thought about what we are saying.  I dare say that the briefest encounter with God’s glory would leave us face down trembling on the floor for quite some time.

But sometimes we are blessed by a rare encounter with true greatness.  Sometimes we get a glimpse of pure excellence. When we are confronted with awesome we start to realize how silly we are when we trivialize the word. And when these moments come, we discover a particular kind of beauty whose expression lies somewhere beyond words.  And especially if what we see or hear is within the sum of our own personal striving for excellence, then I think there is another level of beauty to be experienced.  It goes deeper than mere appreciation or understanding.  It goes much farther than relating to or identifying with.  It is, in fact, much like climbing a very steep and very tall mountain.  Only someone who has experienced the rocky incline for several miles and several thousand feet can really understand something about what it must take to stand on the peak.

I think herein lies a very good reason to earnestly seek excellence.  For it is in the striving, the sweat, the persistence, the sometimes triumphs and too often failures that we develop both an understanding of, and deep sense of oneness with that which is truly great.

I have come to grips with the fact, that, in spite of many years of trying, I will never be a great musician. Good will have to do.  But I thank God my journey has brought me to a place where I can weep with joy at the beauty of hearing truly great musicians perform. Still, I don’t think I would know great without having sought it.  I believe few now know what it means to be great or excellent.  It has lost its meaning, a victim of trivialization, and it is a journey few are willing to take because it is a prize seldom gained.  Let’s face it, greatness and excellence don’t go hand in hand with instant gratification.  Many simply wait to be told something is great, then nod their assent. Sadly, whether or not it is doesn’t seem to matter.  I’m glad it still matters to me.

3 Responses to “The Beauty of Greatness”

  1. Darryl says:

    Nice thoughts!

  2. Scott says:

    It’s amazing how much the idea of greatness seems to be relative to one’s own training and experience. For instance, a three-year-old who can sing on pitch is considered by some to be “great”. Further, the person who knows how to play block chords on the piano in C, G, D, and E can be viewed as a “great musician” in a church of 50 that needs someone (anyone? Bueller?) to lead the worship songs. However, send that guy to a conservatory and his established greatness is nothing. So then he goes through school, eventually racking up merit scholarships and earns several degrees, and his classmates praise him for his greatness. Then he goes to the concert of a true master and realizes just how puny his “greatness” really is… so far. And I’ll bet that if he got to talk with that “true master”, that guy would probably say he had a long way to go, too.

    I mourn the loss of import to words like “awesome” as well. Perhaps part of the reason for using words like “great” comes from over-eager teachers and parents who want to motivate their students and children through positive reinforcement. It’s tough not to exaggerate the praise you give someone when your goal is to encourage them as much as possible. For instance, how would you congratulate your 6-year-old after her recital? “Suzie, I’m very proud of you. If you keep practicing for 30 more years, we might give you a gold star that says ‘Average’ on it!”

  3. harmonicminer says:

    Mrs. Miner has a word she uses when she wants to give someone high praise. If you’ve done or said something pretty well, she’ll say, “That’s adequate.” She doesn’t believe in superlative inflation.

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