Beauty calls, and it is a call that no one can deny.
It sparkles in the blades of grass bedecked with gems of dew. It whispers in the white springtime blossoms as they lift their faces to the wind’s caress. It soars in the majestic wings of an eagle. It unfurls in the delicate tendrils of a growing plant. It thunders in the vine-enshrouded waterfall.
Beauty permeates nature, but it seeps into our everyday lives, too. It dances in the eyes of a giggling child and wafts from the savoury steam escaping from the bubbling pot of soup. It spirals in the perfect pass from snapping wrist to outstretched arms and hums from the well-tuned engine of a sleek sports car.
At times, beauty’s voice is powerful enough to take our breath away through sheer force, while at other times it is a whisper that steals slowly and slyly into our increasingly enraptured hearts. Beauty shouts and whispers through the showy and the subtle, but it is always calling.
The Call Demands Response
As with any call, there is an opportunity for response. Beauty demands more from us than mere passivity. It calls; we answer. And as we are turned toward the call of beauty, we can experience its drawing power tugging us to something beyond the limits of the beautiful object itself.
Beauty Is God’s Essence
Beauty is more than simply a shadow of God or even a reflection of Him. God is beauty, just as He is good and true. The things in this world that are truly beautiful are each a way that God is communicating His being to us. When we experience beautiful things, we are recognizing God’s revelation of Himself to us.
However, the Anabaptist culture in particular has tended to avoid beauty, especially in worship. We are vigilant in avoiding an overemphasis on beauty, or skeptical of its inherent value. We are comfortable with functional beauty, such as home décor or the long-standing Mennonite tradition of quilting, but soaring ceilings, brilliant stained-glass, and intricate detail are noticeably missing in our churches.
If beauty really does flow straight from God’s essence, why are we so wary of it? We have no problem with accepting goodness as being sourced in God, and we encourage the pursuit of truth. But why is the topic of beauty often discussed with an implicit sense of caution?
There are at least two valid reasons for our uneasiness.
Sin Twists Beauty
The first has to do with our nature as sinful people. We have an innate tendency to want the wrong things. We are bent, and our desires are bent. The perfection of beauty does not fit into the broken molds that we so often create for it. The result is a twisting from the pure beauty that God offers to something imperfect—and often sinful. Hero worship, fashion, and pornography could all fit into this category. Beauty is dangerous, even detrimental, when it has been twisted to fill our twisted desires.
Beauty Can Tend Toward Idolatry
The other reason we tend to be concerned about beauty is because of its drawing nature. Beauty attracts us, and it does so powerfully. On one hand, this is an incredible picture of the way God’s revealed nature appeals strongly to the deepest parts of our hearts. On the other hand, this attraction is dangerous, because it can quickly become an idol that keeps us from God.
An Appropriate View of Beauty
The key is to remember that beauty is not an end in itself. Beauty is simply a wonderful means through which we can know God. It is a powerful force that draws us to Him, but it must draw us to Him. When we forget that expressions of beauty in this world exist in order to draw us into a deeper relationship with Beauty Himself, we are missing the point.
Beauty Enriches Relationship
The truth is, experiencing God through experiencing beauty can bring fulfillment to our relationship with Him in a way that nothing else can. Beauty is an important part of our relationship with God, because it continually draws us deeper and deeper into Him. The drawing power of beauty does not lead us on a hopeless chase with no satisfaction. Rather, it is a call to a relationship with Beauty. And like any relationship, there are always deeper levels of knowing to be attained.
Ironically, this sense of fulfillment also comes from beauty’s lack of ability to completely satisfy.
Beauty Creates an Ache
You see, every experience of beauty on this fallen earth is incomplete. We long for perfect beauty, which we cannot experience here. Any truly beautiful moment that we can experience will always carry an ache with it—the ache to be able to experience Him fully without the barrier of sin.
As Thomas Dubay says in his book The Evidential Power of Beauty, “You and I, each and every one of us without exception, can be defined as an aching need for the infinite.”[i]
It’s like we can experience the delight of wading in the streams of His beauty, but ultimately, we are longing to immerse ourselves in the ocean.
Dubay goes on to describe our longing as “tears of yearning for the Everything that alone can quiet the human heart.”[ii]
So, in essence, beauty is calling us beyond what can be found in the physical. It is a call from our Father, calling us to Himself.
Yes, beauty calls.
Beauty calls us home.
|Meghan Jantzi lives in Waterloo, Ontario, where she teaches a class of wonderful sixth-graders. She loves being creative, whether it is through teaching, writing, or other hobbies like playing the piano or experimenting with word art. She loves to take delight in the small things in life, like the rosy clouds of a perfect sunset or a finding a dew-laced spider web. Most of all, she desires to live fully by loving God and others deeply.|
[i] Dubay, Thomas. The Evidential Power of Beauty: Science and Theology Meet. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006. Print.