Seeking Beauty

The Russian novelist Dostoevsky wrote, “Only Beauty will save the world.” With so much ugliness in the world, we can often wonder if the world can be saved.

Yet God has strewn beauty all over the place, but we neglect it: we hurry right by and don’t notice, or we have forgotten to name it when we see it. A dandelion, a carefully arranged place setting, an old photograph, the tree in your garden, a wrinkled face, clouds, a tune, the face in the mirror: beauty is all around, waiting to be noticed, cherished, pointed to, shared. And all of it reveals God’s heart to us. Want to see God? “Every experience of beauty points to infinity” (Hans Urs von Balthasar).

How good of God to stir so much beauty into the mix when He created everything! It could have been all dirt and rock, efficiency and productivity. God, like the artist, created what was unnecessary, inefficient. But God not only left space for beauty, He elevated it to its status as the one thing that thrills the heart and leaves us feeling noble, giving immense dignity to the smallest of his creation.

St. Thomas Aquinas gave us one answer: “God created the universe to make it beautiful for himself by reflecting his own beauty.” God is a great many things – but at the centre of it all, God is beauty. We are created to notice, to be awed, and to be delighted.

We’ve all heard that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but that’s a lie. It’s not a matter of taste, or private preference. When we shrink things down to a private list of what I like or don’t like, we’re the losers. As we explore Beauty, we’ll learn to see better, to see what God sees: every person, every thing, pretty or not, partakes in the goodness and beauty of God. We’re surrounded by it.

There are times when beauty also gets twisted and perverted, and there’s so much desecration. Aren’t we adept at pinpointing what’s ugly when there’s actually beauty there? For instance, there is a beauty in suffering. You may know this from experience. Or the stunning array of colorful leaves in Autumn: what you’re looking at is death.

Faith isn’t merely a belief God exists, or access to help when you’re in trouble, or a free pass to get into heaven. Faith is seeing as God sees. It’s a readiness to be astonished. It’s inefficient and unproductive, this pondering of beauty – and so it’s like prayer, a wasting of time, and yet what we crave deep in our souls. Nothing else really will satisfy.

Paul, from a dark, dank stone prison, wrote, “Whatever is noble, whatever is beautiful, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). God has strewn beauty all over the place. The least we can do is notice. Maybe we will become what we see.

God bless and stay safe,

Alan

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