Why I Raised My Hand For Beauty
I am exploring a new country, making new friends, planting new roots, and starting a new (and first) job. My time is consumed with these many blessings, and yet, I have found myself with still the strength and desire (and time!) to think and write about various non-new things in my life. I suppose it helps that, for my commute to school, I have chosen a route that allows me a two-kilometer walk each way, giving me sufficient time for daily contemplation, as well as splendid exercise.
One of these non-new things that has been the focus of said contemplation is something that occurred during the Pre-Field Orientation in Memphis last month. Of the many things we did, one small activity particularly stands out in my mind. We were given a list of about forty words such as freedom, truth, family, adventure, humor, knowledge, spirituality, happiness, romance, power, wisdom, etc. and were asked to build a culture based on only five of these values. By a show of hands, one could see which values were deemed more “valuable” than others. When it came time for beauty, only a few of us (of the 130 trainees) chose it. Here, I hope to explain why I raised my hand for beauty.
I chose beauty because it is a great evidence of God’s grace. I am reminded of Emily Dickinson’s poem:
Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth’s superb surprise;
As lightening to the children eased
With explanation kind,
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.
Truth comes in various forms, and is often expressed by beauty. Many of these forms must be simple as we must be “dazzle[d] gradually”. We cannot handle, cannot comprehend, cannot grasp truth in its entirety. And that is why I believe God gave us beauty. It provides us truth in small, simple packages wherein we can look, listen, and digest. It is God’s grace of covering us and allowing us to see his back, so to speak, as he did for Moses. One day we shall see his face in all its glory. Until then, we would be remiss to not explore the gift of beauty given to us in this temporary life. Let us heed the psalmist and “taste and see that the Lord is good”.
I chose beauty because it comes in simple forms. Sadly though, we often mistakenly perceive it for being just that. We often overlook what children are blessed to see and take time to ponder. We often condemn the things in which they delight, the things we deem as “childish” and “monotonous”. My good buddy, Gilbert Keith, in his book Orthodoxy put it nicely (and comically):
Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical ENCORE. Heaven may ENCORE the bird who laid an egg.
I chose beauty because just as it is simple, it is not pretentious. Although it could very well demand, “How could you have adventure (or many of the other values on the list, for that matter) without beauty to be sought after in the first place?”, it doesn’t. No, beauty is quietly patient, waiting and ripening well for the next passerby who will stop his busyness and choose to see and learn how to see what he has so easily been distracted from all his life.
I chose beauty because it teaches us to un-learn prejudices and learn humility. We need never worry about imposing our idea of beauty into something. Rather, we need only develop the discipline and pray for the sensitivity to look, read, listen, feel, and taste what is objectively before us.
I chose beauty because it is found in the commonplaces. It is everywhere and in abundance. Elizabeth Elmers, in her book Beauty Unframed, eloquently explains the exquisiteness all around us to which we are so blind. I highly recommend the read.
I chose beauty because it is attainable, yet is something of which can never be fully attained. It is paradoxical. One cannot say, “I know a little beauty and am content with that.” Nor can they say, “I have experienced all the beauty there is to know, I am satisfied.” Yet one can always say, “I have received a glimpse, an aspect, a slant of that beauty, and though I am fully satisfied, I desire more.” Beauty leaves you both content and craving. It leaves you never seeing the world the same way. You are left concluding something that you once enjoyed as objectively inferior – paled in comparison with the new perspective your eyes, ears, heart, and mind have now been given.
I raised my hand for beauty because it reminds me of the Gospel. It reminds me that, because of Christ, there are greater things (usually guised as the smaller, simpler things) worth pursuing than what my selfish, prideful heart indignantly resolves. It reminds me to preach to myself the Gospel daily – of God’s holiness and love, his mercy and grace – and to be thankful. It reminds me that my refuge is in Him.
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!~ Psalm 34:8