Today I came to a (rather) profound realization–the closer one is to God, the better one can see beauty. This understanding came as I was driving home from work and contemplating my seniors rather immediate rejection of the “Argument from Beauty” that was presented to them today. Many of them argued that beauty wouldn’t sway anybody. I asked them if they had ever seen a sunrise or a sunset and been moved with feeling that there must be more. One class in particular seemed to indicate that it had never happened to them. I was amazed. I could think of a couple dozen times over the past few months that the sunrise or sunset alone had filled me with joy and gladness. Often it leads me to break into spontaneous praise. As I drove home, I was surveying a gorgeous sunset. How could they not understand this beauty?
Then it came to me–because they weren’t very close to Beauty. The more that I thought about it, the more sense it seemed to make. These past few years I had grown closer to God and thus I rejoice more in God’s creation. My semester in Austria was one of constant beauty and wonder. That is when I first realized that God loves me through beauty. In particular, I was in Iseltwald, Switzerland. I saw a breathtaking scenery that words fail to describe and I knew that in that moment God was fiercely loving me. In fact, a friend and I walked around the lake, belting out praise and worship songs. My feeling from the entire day was one of amazement that I could experience such beauty. And that was linked closely to the understanding that I was experiencing Beauty.
Or there have been times when I have experienced the depth of beauty found in a book. I Believe in Love, for example, or some passages of Scripture that just speak to my heart. See Psalm 63. Or when I listen to a beautiful song that moves my heart. There are times when I am with my family and my nephew gives that irresistible smile that speaks volumes of beauty. The time that you can spend with really close friends–when you have deep conversations and the silence is never awkward but always filled with time to ponder the depths of goodness. Or that moment of silence in which you can rest despite the surrounding chaos. The sweet moments spent before Our Eucharistic King. I have experienced so much beauty! In my mind it makes so much sense to know God through the different experiences of beauty.
Now here was a classroom full of students so willing to dismiss beauty and say that it was just a matter of preference. I wanted to argue that beauty isn’t always subjective but I didn’t know how I would confront their arguments. I already had students sitting there with “This is so stupid” written over their faces. Does beauty mean so little?
The closer we draw to Beauty, the more we are capable of seeing Him in the world around us. If we are living in sin or have no desire to know Him, then our ability to see beauty diminishes. The atheist could very well see beautiful things and call them such. But it is the contemplative nun who sacrificed her life for God that can see beauty in every moment. It is the sacrificing father that can see the beauty in life. The one who is running after Christ can see beauty amidst the suffering of life.
I don’t want to say that beauty is a matter of perspective, but how you are living and what you value can transform what is beautiful. I wish I could claim to see beauty perfectly, but I do not. Too often I will admit the beauty of the sunrise but fail to see the beauty in my student or in that stranger that just cut me off on the interstate. Yet how more beautiful is the person than the rest of creation? Google images even proves it. I googled “beauty” and I saw pages and pages of women. They weren’t the most modestly covered women, but it seemed to indicate that we know where true beauty lies, even if we misuse beauty.
How do you teach someone to love beauty? I showed them 30 pictures of landscapes, sunrises, and children. Many of them seemed to think I was wasting their time. Just pictures. Just beauty? I am beginning to see the truth of the quote by Fyodor Dostoevsky:
“Beauty will save the world.”
It is true. Beauty will save the world. If we cannot accept Beauty, if we cannot see Him, then we can never experience the utter beauty that is Heaven or understand the beauty of Earth. I don’t know how I can teach this understanding of beauty to my students. They have so much and yet they have so little. If only I could give them some of my experiences of beauty and make them not be simply my stories but rather their own experiences. They see a Church of rules and strictness. But they are missing the Church of ineffable beauty and unsurpassed joy. This must be a thing that only God can work in their hearts through the power of His mercy and love.
Love does take us and transfigure and torture us. It does break our hearts with an unbearable beauty, like the unbearable beauty of music. ~G.K. Chesterton
Lord, take us and transfigure us with Your Beauty.