Beauty is unnecessary.
I thought about how unnecessary beauty is as I sat in the Cathedral and listened to an orchestra play. Although an amateur lover of beauty, I was able to see the magnificence of the architecture and the glory of the music coming from a variety of instruments. Providence placed us nearly as close to the orchestra as we could be without holding an instrument ourselves. Yet several times throughout the evening I would think about how unnecessary this all was.
If the world came from chaos and all of life means nothing, I am struck by the existence of the beautiful. Beauty is unneeded for life to exist. It is entirely extra and unnecessary. Yet while unneeded, it is the joie de vivre of life. While we could live without it, we would not want to do so. It enriches life ten-fold and I think that is as the Lord wanted.
We have a place in our hearts for the beautiful. It is why some people spend so much time staging pictures. We are drawn toward the beautiful. Although any mug would work for coffee, I am far more likely to choose the ones I deem more beautiful in some way. It is beauty that makes me notice the trees etched in silver or the special smile on my niece’s face. Beauty bypasses the need for reason, although we can give reason for why we find something beautiful, if pressed.
The Lord is the one of which all the beautiful, transitory things on earth reflect a glimmer. My heart is being prepared to encounter Beauty Himself when I take in the toothless grin of my nephew or the majesty of the Sistine Chapel. When I encounter Him in the simplistic beauty that surrounds me, I am widening my heart to receive more of Him later on.
Beauty is unnecessary for our physical survival. There is no reason why this world should be overflowing with beauty when viewed from a strictly practical, materialist view. Yet beauty, I would argue, is crucial for the survival of the soul. We need to be pulled outside ourselves and pointed toward the transcendent. Sunrises or sunsets, mountains, vast beaches, classical music, architectural genius, and fine paintings help widen our hearts for a deeper encounter with Beauty.
Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves. Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly lovely.
Song of Solomon 1:15-16a