Beyond the velvet ropes
“I sought to hear the voice of God and climbed the topmost steeple, but God declared: “Go down again — I dwell among the people.” John Henry Newman
I love art museums, but there’s something a little intimidating about them. It might be the elegance of the soft lighting, shiny floors and heavy gilt frames. Maybe it’s because everyone’s voices are hushed, whispering, communicating reverence and awe. Or maybe it’s the pesky velvet ropes that clearly tell me to keep my distance.
As I walk through, I move more quickly than you might expect, scanning the paintings until I find one that grabs me. And then I slow down. Soak it in. Stare, feeling the colors and textures and light and shadows envelop me. As I’m drawn into the artwork intellectually, emotionally, physically, I lean forward, wanting to get closer — to step over the rope. Touch it. Experience it. Maybe even step up and disappear inside it, just to experience the beauty of it surrounding me on all sides. I’d be careful, I promise.
But there are rules limiting how close I can get. Little signs of warning on the walls. Security guards in each gallery. Observation cameras with little flashing lights. Sometimes there are lines on the floors subliminally telling you where you can stand. And occasionally an alarm might sound if you cross the magical, invisible barrier.
I understand that the works of art on the wall are precious. One of a kind. But art is a form of communication between the artist and the audience, a type of sharing. Its purpose is to establish a strong emotional connection — to affect the viewer — while a rope is designed to keep us at a safe distance from the very thing we came to see.
Many of us want to put God up on a pedestal — and oh, is He ever worthy of being up there. But what God offers us — each of us, every day — is a relationship, and that can only happen if He doesn’t hold Himself at a distance. When we come before Him, full of admiration and awe, humbled by His magnificence, free of the conviction that we don’t belong there — then the barriers drop away. Then we will experience Him. And then we will feel Him drawing us ever closer until we are surrounded on all sides by His beauty, until we live fully within His world — with no ropes anywhere in sight.