A thing of beauty is a joy for ever

On Sunday I listened to Mahler’s 3rd symphony on the internet. For 90 minutes we wandered through the world catching tunes – sometimes trifling, sometimes profound; sometimes thunderous, sometimes so soft as to be almost inaudible. Who was this Mahler I googled? I found he was Jewish and felt rejected and an exile everywhere he went. His music is a yearning for “home”.

Italian film director LuchinoVisconti used the music for his screening of Death in Venice, a novel by Thomas Mann about a famous conductor, Aschenbach, who breaks down and retires to Venice for a change of scenery. While there the languid atmosphere and his personal sadness induces a letting go of his lifelong hold on his emotions. When he sees a teenage Polish boy, who is on holiday with his family, he is stunned by the boy’s physical beauty.

At first this beauty appears to him in an intellectual light but gradually the beauty breaks free of the fetters of his mind and he is tormented by a desire to possess this beautiful creature – which he knows he cannot possess. Failing to open the film itself I agree to be side-tracked into the story of Visconti’s search for the boy. He travels over snow covered Europe until he finds him in Poland and there are endless portraits of the boy as the camera searches to describe his looks. The boy never utters a word.

Then I find myself unsettled. The contemplation of beauty – a sunset, a flower, a Beethoven sonata – is innocent and simple and well within our “control.” But when the beauty comes in the form of a concentrated study of a particular youth in flesh and blood amber lights begin to flash. I am approaching an invisible line between beauty and the exploitation of it.

I started out enjoying a symphony! But now my curiosity has reached the edge of a forest which I cannot enter without fear of getting lost. The internet is a wonderful tool. But it can lure us where we had not wished to go. At the press of a button I can access images that twist and destroy the very beauty that attracts. It is frightening. The surest way to know what to watch, and what not to watch, is to notice how I feel. If I am honest I will know. My own heart will tell me when to turn round and retrace my steps.

In today’s reading Peter is given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Keys can be used to open doors or to lock them. It is up to us to choose.

27 August 2017                  Sunday 21 A

Isaiah 22:19-23                  Romans 11:33-36                                              Matthew 16:13-20

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