Looking through the front window toward the house across the street, I am attracted to the big pink flowers (I don’t know what they are called – I am horticulturally pretty dense). It stirs my appreciation for D’s desire to beautify the neighborhood. The same can be said about other homes where I live. Some of the places remind me of my image of a stereotypical English garden. On the other hand, I have some flowers, but really should add more.
I mention this to make the point that beauty attracts us. There are so many beautiful things out there. Additionally, it appears that our sensitivity to beauty varies from person to person. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me, since our sense receptors can be quite individually tuned, can’t they? They can vary from moment to moment and year to year.
Beauty can be found in many shapes and sizes, from a small portrait to a towering cathedral, from a delicate butterfly to the formidable and fully starlit cold space on a cloudless night far from the downtown lights. Beauty can be seen in the warm smile of the new mother gazing down on her baby’s face to the rippling muscles of a father pulling his life threatened son from a well.
There is more. Beautiful items do more than draw admiring comments from us observers. Beauty stirs within us a sense of longing. Beauty points us, leads us, directs us beyond our typical arenas of perception. Beauty bids us to continue moving toward the ultimate source of beauty, whose presence would be the most gratifying of all beautiful experiences.
John Stackhouse in “The True, the Good, and the Beautiful Christian” lifts the following expression from Elaine Scarry’s On Beauty and Being Just – “the absence of beauty is a profound form of deprivation.” What a fascinatingly catalytic statement! The implication is that experiencing beauty fills us, reduces the lacks in us, and permits a restoration of balance to replace our deprivations. Experiencing beauty offers us the possibility to step beyond our awkward self-centeredness and move toward symmetry and harmony.
I don’t know how far God is beyond our sense of symmetry, harmony, balance, fullness, consistency, creativity – beauty. But, I know He is not less than to what our senses point. That being the case, we do ourselves a favor, and give God the honor He deserves, when we celebrate and worship Him as the foundation and culmination of The Beauty of all that is real.
Stackhouse’s article was first published in Christianity Today, January 2004.