A Case for Beauty

Originally posted to MySpace on:

April 2, 2006:

Referring to points made in the book, Captivating, by John and Stasi Eldredge:

I’m the first to admit that I don’t read as much as I’d like. It’s a shame too because there’s a lot to learn from reading. I suppose there’s a lot to learn from watching the Discovery Channel too, but the point still applies. I just don’t do enough of it. Not that I need more knowledge or anything—I barely use the knowledge I have. But it’s a shame to waste away the knowledge that I do have, or avoid the knowledge that I could have.

I think the area of advice might come into play here for a moment. “Ironic” by Alanis Morrisette has a line in the chorus (in the midst of a list of ironic things) that states, “it’s the good advice that you just didn’t take, and who would’ve thought it figured? Isn’t it ironic?” My response, of course is yes, yes it is. What almost seems miniscule in the sight of lines and stories that include spending an entire life being afraid to fly, just to have the plane crashing on the first flight, or sitting down after a hard day to drink an elegant glass of Chardonnay, just to find a freakin’ fly swimming in it (I guess wine drinkers are picky about that sort of thing), or meeting the person of your dreams and then meeting the spouse; a line about good advice seems almost cheesy. But, if that good advice can change a life, and it’s not taken, what then? Well, it sucks actually.

Good advice can come out of reading a book. Strange but true. If you read a book about finances, it’ll probably offer tips about how to invest wisely. Chances are the book wouldn’t have gotten published if the author didn’t know what he was talking about. Researchers and experts in the field typically research that stuff before it hits the shelves, so odds are high that the methods described are sound (maybe not the best—there are after all a number of books on the same subject, but still reasonable). And that would be a fine indicator that the advice given would be advice worth following. And for someone to deny the advice, and ultimately end up in the poor house, might be a good indicator that the advice should’ve been followed.

Okay, so what does all this have to do with beauty? Well, I think it has more to do with reading at the moment. Last night I read a chapter of the latest book by John Eldredge (co-authored with his wife), to which it talks about the beauty that God made into woman. It points out the subtle fact that most art down the ages portrays woman as a work of beauty, but doesn’t do the same for a man. If I were to thumb through an art book right now, I’d probably have to agree with them. For every portrait of a man out there, there are probably at least twenty-five to a hundred portraits of a woman. If I were slow on the draw, I might fail to see the truth in this.

According to the Book of Genesis (that’s in the Bible for those who are unaware), woman was created last, as the pinnacle of creation. That’s actually quite impressive, now that I think about it. This book I’m reading describes it as the crescendo to a great symphony. But it also does more—it describes woman as the image of the beauty of God. Where we (men) are supposed to be the warriors of God (and boy do I feel like I’ve fallen off the wagon in that department), women are supposed to be the romance of God—the part of God that says, “take me with you, get to know me, etc.” By the time I got to the end of this chapter (after having to stop many times to meditate on how much truth I’ve overlooked most of my life), I realized exactly what it was that I’ve missed with God. I’m so busy expecting him to be the father I no longer have, that I forget that he just wants me to investigate his glory, explore it, and take it with me. That he wants to be recognized as the source of healing beauty, and as all the other attributes that define beauty. I don’t want to go into too many details about the other points made because that would basically ruin the beauty of the words written (summaries tend to do that), but it got me to realize what I’ve been missing.

I suppose that’s one reason why I like to visit the beach so much (or rather why I go there when I really need my heart back, after wasting it on stupid things). It’s a place where I feel refreshed—where God’s natural beauty restores me. If not for that, I’d be a mental case. Thanks to work, and pettiness, and stupid gossip, and all the other things that surround me or pick at me, my will to walk into the next day steadily decreases. But, thanks to the beauty God has allowed to step before me (in this case the beach and sometimes the park), I have a chance to recharge.

So far I might not be saying anything particularly impacting. So far I’m hyping up the beauty of God without really making it real. I suppose anyone and everyone has his place, but I know there’s so much mud in the world that it’s often hard to see true beauty. I’d like to hang out in that rolling field in a mid-summer’s evening, but a train wrecked nearby, and I can see it from the hill. I’d love to sail off the coast of Hawaii, but the frequent shark attacks have turned the water red. I’d love to spend an evening hanging out with this physically attractive woman, but her chain smoking makes me sick (and her boyfriend probably wouldn’t appreciate it anyway). It seems wherever I’d like to find beauty, something’s out there trying to ruin it. Even when the burden of my heart becomes so weighted that I can’t even bring myself to the beach (because this time it just isn’t strong enough), it becomes overwhelming. In those times I have to force myself to let go of the baggage. If I can’t let go, I can’t really appreciate what I have around me. And how am I supposed to think about the beauty of God when I can’t really see God, just his creation?

That was the point in my reading when I had to stop for awhile and think about this. The beauty of God—what is that really? I’ve never seen God face-to-face, so how can I know what true beauty is, if everything in my world is only an image? Only an image? The ocean, the sunrise, the rainforest, the tiger, the zebra, the desert, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand? Only an image? Woman? Only an image? What the heck have I been ignoring? If these are only the images, then how beautiful, pray tell, is the source? If an Elven forest like Lothlorien (in the Lord of the Rings movies) is merely an image of a mind created by God (in the same way that a political cartoon is only an image), then what level of amazement comes from the source?

The thing I realized here was that everyone at the end of his or her life will see this beauty, experience this healing, be overwhelmed by this joy. And some will be invited to enter in and share with it forever. Lying down next to a crystal waterfall, the woman you love in her best sundress next to you, God smiling down at you from all around, and no one bugging you to pay your bills, or your taxes. The freedom of flying without a plane, or the freedom of racing without a speed limit. And those are just appetizers. And yet, many others won’t get that far. Many others will catch that glimpse of God for only a moment before finding out that he never knew them, and that they missed their chance—that they ignored the good advice.

In the case for salvation, I’ll admit that I’m not the best warrior in town. I’ve let friends and family come and go without ever sharing the glory of God. When I’m too busy complaining about how much I hate my job, or too busy hyping up my own works (an offshoot of pride if I’m not careful), or too busy judging someone wrongly, I fail to see the avenue in which to speak up and say, “hey, your constant partying and empty promiscuity really won’t add to your life—and you’re better than that. Why don’t you explore the true source of your joy and beauty instead?” Nope, it’s a lot easier to talk about Spider-Man (another creation from a mind created by God—beautiful and adventurous and heroic and unique).

And it’s no wonder that people are afraid to warm up to this. God is often seen as the “man upstairs” (i.e. the man who sees, but isn’t with you; the man who observes, but looks down on you). No one thinks of him as the “being who shares,” or the “being who pursues,” or if we’re referring to the feminine characteristics, the “being who captivates,” or the “being who heals,” and the list goes on. And why shouldn’t we be afraid? It’s a frightening thing to experience true beauty. On a personal note, I finally realized the reality of this last night when I thought back to a moment a year ago when I couldn’t contain the beauty in front of me. At first I saw the beauty (yes, we’re talking about a girl here, not a waterfall or anything) as something unique, but not necessarily “pretty.” Even though the prettiness was there, it wasn’t safe. It’s actually kind of hard to explain, but think of it as a lioness. Lionesses are beautiful creatures, but they scare the hell out of you when you see them face-to-face (assuming there’s no cage between you). I had the same reaction when I really stared this beauty in the eye. It was like the beauty was there and evident, but my eyes were so allured and ultimately made dizzy from the reality of beauty that I could no longer look this beauty in the eye. It actually became too much for me to handle. Sometimes it’s like that with majestic things like mountains and oceans. Sooner or later it becomes too much. I often fear God in the same way. It’s no wonder that in our sinless state, we are physically unable to behold God in our sight, and that to do so would mean death. And yet, when this life is over and we enter into the next one, we’re able to see exactly what true beauty is (and can handle it, and embrace it), and want nothing more but to experience that forever.

So, it sucks when those of us who rejected that beauty in life for the safe pleasures of money and other temporary things face this reality, because what can they do then? Beauty becomes reality for a moment, but is promptly taken away, as a thief steals away one’s priceless possessions, and can never be reclaimed. Life thereafter is a life of mud, maggots, and complete darkness. Beauty may be dangerous, but it’s nurturing. Maggots may be easy to behold, but they’ll eat your eyes out.

People will always make excuses, but deep down we all want beauty. Sooner or later we’ll be able to behold true beauty, but we have to decide on that now. Beauty wants to come with us, but we have to invite it. Beauty wants to heal us, but we have to accept it. There’s no time for screwing around—that’s something that I can see clearly. Too much time has been spent in misery. Not enough has been spent in beauty. Even if I can’t see beauty’s source at the moment, I can still see beauty’s many images, and I think that’s motivation enough to pursue beauty’s source as a prince would pursue his tower-bound maiden.

What would I really have to lose?

Anyway, there’s still more to explore and more to read. But, so far this question of beauty has inspired me to stay persistent. I might have my days where I’m just not hanging in there very well, but fortunately, beauty is also a fierce warrior that doesn’t give up or let go. If somewhere along the line I should fall (and I will because I’m just so good at it), that heroic beauty will pick me up, and say, “here, brush yourself off and get back on the horse. There’s an adventure out there waiting for you.”

Something about that comforts like being under the covers in the middle of a rainfall with a cup of hot coffee by the bed. It’s the kind of thing that increases my desire to keep moving and to be a “man in motion”—the area of art where men are best portrayed.

God, help me embrace this and move with it. I’m tired of taking this stuff for granted.