We walked through the small village in a pack--ten friendly, curious Americans on the loose. We'd given our guides the night off and fully embraced the tourist label as we headed toward the local theater that sponsored a Swiss folklore show.
On a week-long tour of the southern part of Switzerland, our group of colleagues had all been stunned speechless at some point or another by its breathtaking beauty.
Every day we saw the snow-covered Alps and other wonders from the train. Every evening we ate hearty dinners in historic inns and explored villages on foot. Every night I sank into bed and a deep, dreamless sleep.
That afternoon we stopped in Interlaken, an area known for its beautiful lakes. After dinner, on our way to the show, we came across a very old church. Anxious to see the inside, we found the door unlocked and went in.
The church was empty. Its small interior had been completely modernized with no hint of historic art or architecture left. I remember a lot of beige. Disappointing.
As we looked around one friend started humming to test the acoustics. His humming, though soft, bounced and echoed loudly. He and a few other guys decided to sing something together and settled on “O Holy Night”--an interesting choice considering it was July.
With a quick rundown of the lyrics, each man chose a part until all the parts were covered. The rest of us stood in various areas of the church to listen.
After a tentative start, the men’s voices rang out solid and true. What started as a lark became something holy--an offering. Tears gathered in my eyes. Already filled to the brim with gratitude for the spectacular beauty I'd seen that week, my heart overflowed with worship and praise.
When the song ended, everyone started talking at once, surprised that their voices had blended so well and amazed by the acoustics. I didn’t say much; I didn’t want to ruin the moment.
We had to get going to make it to the show on time, so a few minutes later we walked out of the church, down the steps, and into a pretty park.
“Look!” someone said. Beyond the lush green grass and evergreen trees, with the Alps dazzling in the distance, an exquisite rainbow shimmered overhead, every color present and shining.
I gasped and stared in wonder. Several people took pictures. Someone joked, “God must have liked our song.”
It was almost too much for me to take in. It was a deep delight, a bittersweet ache, a longing for something else. A longing for, as CS Lewis writes, "The scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited."
Have you ever had an unexpected experience of beauty, whether through music, a rainbow, or something else? Has beauty ever stirred up a longing in you that you can't define? I'd love to hear about it. Let me know in a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A version of this article first appeared in indeed magazine, July/August 2004.
Photo courtesy of Patrick Fore | StockSnap