“Beauty could not rebuild our cities, but it helped to rebuild our humanity and to bring us closer to one another. Beauty could not bring back family and friends, but it helped us weep for them, remember them, and celebrate them,” Aroma of Beauty, pp.138
What is the role of art in the midst of a crisis? Does beauty have a part to play in the wake of disaster?
In his new book, Aroma of Beauty, Roger Lowther shares firsthand accounts of life after the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. The earthquake led to a 120-foot tsunami washing over the coast of Tōhoku, the explosion of nuclear power plants, and the death of thousands of people. As Roger shares his experience as a missionary and musician living in Japan at the time, he shows the value of art and beauty in the middle of suffering. The aroma of beauty helps ward off the stench of destruction that so easily leads us to despair. Small moments listening to music, sharing meals, and crafting jewelry offer hope and connection to a community in need of both.
Roger doesn’t make light of the tragedy. He doesn’t put a band-aid over grief or minimize the reality of pain. Instead, he offers a bittersweet picture of how hope mingles with sorrow. Aroma of Beauty is a testament of the ability of art to bring comfort and connection to those in need. It’s a heartfelt story that brought tears to my eyes countless times as I read it.
3 Takeaways from Aroma of Beauty:
While this narrative tells the story of a specific people during specific events, it offers hope that is universal. The truths Roger discovers and shares through his experiences are an encouragement for anyone facing grief or hardship.
1: God is present even in our deepest pain.
“God can say, ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10), because he is always there, present with us. He is there when the earth ‘give[s] way,’ and the mountains ‘fall into the heart of the sea,’ and the monstrous tsunamis ‘roar and foam.’ ” (pp. 31).
While the world around him was literally crumbling–buildings destroyed, rubble scattered everywhere, aftershocks rattling the earth–Roger was reminded that God was there with him. When everything surrounding us sways in uncertainty, God is the steady ground where we can find rest. He is our unchanging, ever-present help in times of trouble.
2: Art can helps us build community and connection.
“Watching the world unravel before our eyes, art can draw us together and encourage us . . . Gathering people. Forming community. Bringing hope. Finding healing. God knits us together in beauty and in love,” (pp. 146).
Roger’s music allowed him to connect with the people he met and moved others to tell him their stories. Whole rooms of people laughed and cried together, experiencing moments of unexpected joy and shared grief, all because of the beauty of music. Roger also tells of people finding healing and connection through other creative acts. People knitting The Scarf, a giant scarf that has now traveled across the world, found connection through collaboration on this beautiful project. A group of women built a community making jewelry from scraps of broken china found in the debris of their broken city. A man built a telephone booth on a hill overlooking the sea to grieve his brother, and the “Telephone of the Wind” became a place many visitors came to share their sorrow.
Creating beauty through art helps bring people together. This simple act is important especially for Christians to take part in. “Becoming a Christian is always about building community. It’s about bringing healing and love to a world so desperately in need of it,” (pp. 105). Art matters because it helps us connect with others. And in building community, we create a space of hope for both ourselves and others in need.
3: We have a source of true hope.
“God does not throw away or abandon this world, no matter how broken it is. Rather, he works to transform and mold it and us into who and what we are meant to be,” (pp. 63).
Our God is a God who redeems what is broken. Rather than swiping the slate clean and starting over, the Lord chose to save Noah from the flood to give humanity a second chance. He chose to restore Israel time and time again after she rebelled. When we were lost in sin, God decided to send His Son as a sacrifice to make a way for our redemption. The Lord restores what is ruined, and one day He will make all things new. No matter how dark our surroundings become, we have hope knowing that God is good, and He is faithful.
He is able to bring beauty from the broken, and He has promised to do so.
Aroma of Beauty is a powerful work that’s especially timely in light of today’s circumstances. The current Covid pandemic is a source of worry and grief for many of us. It helps to be reminded that there is goodness and beauty even in the darkest days.
If you are interested in reading this book, you can find a copy on Amazon here.
*Note: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed here are my own.