Moral beauty

Pastoral Messages | February 1, 2024

If I were to rank my weekly chores in the order of how much joy it brings, grocery shopping would generally be near the bottom. But this has changed since I started going to the Aldi store a few blocks from church. I like the fact that they have good food at a great price, and it’s close to work and home. But what I have come to appreciate is that I regularly experience unexpected human interactions when I’m there.

Sometimes it’s simple things like letting someone with fewer items go ahead of you in line or celebrating a good find in the “random thing aisle.” Often it involves the sharing of a cart to save someone a little time and ease. Other times I see people give someone money to help cover the last ten bucks that someone’s SNAP card didn’t cover. I overhear someone with a cart full of milk sharing how it’s for their local food pantry.

There are more times than not that I leave the grocery store not only with some good food but a kind of amazement at human goodness. It turns out this sort of astonishment is a thing. Recently, a psychologist from UC Berkley named Dacher Keltner wrote a book about awe – which he describes as “the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your current understanding of the world.”

Keltner talks about various things that bring us awe. It’s obvious things, like nature and music, visual art and spiritual experiences. But in his study of hundreds of people across the world, Keltner found that there was one thing that brought people the most experiences of awe.

It wasn’t mountains, Mozart, or the Mona Lisa. It was other people’s kindness, resilience, fortitude, and generosity. Keltner found that people are most likely to feel awe when they are moved by what he calls, “moral beauty.” We most feel wonder in those moments when we see exceptional goodness in the words and actions of others. This is what most often astonishes people – catches us in this feeling of being part of something so much bigger than us.

When Jesus tells his friends to pay attention to that poor widow giving her two small coins to the temple that morning, perhaps it wasn’t just to learn from her about living a generous life. Maybe Jesus himself was astonished by her, in awe of her moral beauty. Maybe he wanted those disciples (and us) to see her with wonder and have that feeling of being caught up in transcendent goodness.

Moral beauty isn’t just in the folks who do extraordinary things that show up in the news and in books. It’s in the small things like that widow, and what I see all the time at our local Aldi. All those small actions are awesome. Literally. The power of these moments of moral beauty is not only that something good happens but witnessing it expands us. They remind us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. We experience in our wonder how God’s way of goodness persists in this world, all the time, even at the grocery store.

-Sara Olson-Smith, associate pastor

6 Comments on “Moral beauty”

  • Deb Lamp

    February 2, 2024 at 7:17 pm

    Thank you for this reminder of the good in all of God’s people. Thank you!

  • Charlotte Monical

    February 2, 2024 at 8:41 am

    Thank you so much for this message. I have found that since our move down here the people are the same as in the Quad Cities. Ready with a friendly smile and helpful whenever they notice you need a little help. Moral beauty is so important as we connect with one another. Thank you again for reminding us of how important it is in our daily lives!

  • Judy Robinson

    February 1, 2024 at 10:17 pm

    To read about “moral beauty” after day of news is to find faith in our fellow human beings, Thank you for a nurturing message.

  • Nancy Hultquist

    February 1, 2024 at 7:48 pm

    Moral beauty…..I love that. It’s heartwarming to witness, and even better to practice it in our daily lives. Thank you for your beautifully written message, Pastor Sara.

  • Sheila Mesick

    February 1, 2024 at 3:04 pm

    Not only are these small actions awesome, they are reminders of the actions that knit the bonds of humanity one stitch at a time. Thank you Sara for sharing your insights.

  • Gina Bielski

    February 1, 2024 at 2:48 pm

    Thank you for this reminder to see the GOOD! I am always in awe of YOUR moral beauty. 🙂

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