August 23, 2005

stairwell accompaniment:Chasing Furies

and i muse…

That my obsession with the beauty of autumn might become the pillar of fire by night and the cloud in the sky by day of my search for that something more. And I want to redefine beauty.

The opposite of beauty is deformity, brokenness, not-the-way-it’s-supposed-to-be-edness. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, but deformity, brokenness. We must not paint beauty into the corner of simple aesthetics, or of the purely physical; it is too big, too grand; it is more than a pretty flower on the hill – it is the whole landscape, quite possibly the moment in which the landscape breathes.

And we long for it; beauty is desirable. I want it in my life. It’s the way I love the colors of the dying leaves; what I feel when I’m at the brink of a mother giving birth, the first gasp of her child, and how instantly the inhabitants of the room feel like family surrounded by such joy; it’s the smile that covers your face when you’re all caught up on phone calls and emails; why a volcano could erupt and hot lava could be cutting a fiery gorge through the room when I’m near Joy and it wouldn’t matter to me one bit.

Encounters with beauty are those startling, ineffable moments when we are in the presence of something bigger than ourselves, and we can’t explain it, and we don’t necessarily feel the need to. Sometimes, I feel like I’m seeing it all at once and it’s too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst, and then I remember to relax and stop trying to hold onto it, and then it flows through me like rain and I don’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.

Everyone and everything experiences some degree of beauty and its opposite, brokenness. For each person who revels in the beauty of sex, another person is sexually abused; for each beautiful sunrise, someone is devastated by a tornado; for each beautiful new baby born, someone is eaten away by cancer – deformity, and its opposite, beauty, are universal. They go together; they’re inseparable — we recognize beauty in light of deformity. Everything speaks of either beauty or deformity.

So why doesn’t beauty satisfy us completely? The simple answer: because it can’t. God created us to enjoy something better than beauty – He created us to enjoy Him. The beautiful sunset is but a reflection of His beauty – beauty is not God, and God cannot be consumed by or contained in beauty. He made us to find satisfaction in Him so if we seek fulfillment in reflections of Him, we’ll remain as unfulfilled as if we try to shave or put make-up on the reflection we see in the mirror.

C. S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory, compares our desire for beauty to a man who is hungry for bread. The man’s hunger doesn’t prove that he’ll get any bread, but there is a reason for the hunger; the reason is that he belongs to a race that “repairs its body” by eating, that is created for, among other things, eating. In the same way, we have this hunger for beauty for a reason, because we belong to a race that is created for, among other things, beauty. Another way to put it is that our desire for beauty is just one manifestation of our desire for heaven.

I cannot express this better than Lewis, so I will use his words:
“We do not want merely to see [experience] beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. . . . At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. . . . The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing . . . .”

Because beauty is not an end in itself.

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