I do not speak of beauty as something soft and enjoyable. To me, beauty is that which startles the soul back to reality, the real stuff of cold winds and brilliant sun rises, of loss and love, of despair and hope reborn. Beauty is not that which is pleasing to the eye or ear that is simply pretty. No, beauty is startling to the soul.
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke captures the fear of beauty with his words,
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror
which we are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so,
because it serenely disdains to destroy us.
Every angel is terrible
Several months ago, I pulled into the main driveway at our University Gathering just about dusk. The sun was at the perfect position to make everything a little hazy so I squinted as I searched for a spot. Then I saw them. Right next to the playground there were two huge bucks standing beside each other. Their antlers easily spanned four feet apiece. I hit the brakes and stared. A little shot of terror ran through me. And then, as you might expect they bolted realizing the Subaru in front of them had an occupant.
I’ve thought since that day, why was I afraid of those deer? In reflecting, the fear wasn’t about them so much as it was about the moment. The suddenness was startling. Here were these majestic creatures standing oddly beside a playground and just steps away from our church. They were gorgeous- muscular, steady and serene (well until they bolted). I had been running through a to-do list as I was parking my car searching for the open spot. The beauty of these beasts startled me back into reality.
It was as if they said, “Here look here. Life is fragile and hard and beautiful. You are so busy looking at the ground and details. Here-look up.”
Beauty startles us into a new awareness.
It is deeply concerning that often our first budget cuts in local municipalities and schools are in the arts. Though I can’t paint much more than a stick figure and some sunshine, I grew up in a school that still valued the arts. We listened to music, tried to create our own, were encouraged to write and read poetry alongside painting and drawing. Looking back, I believe my early education was training me to search for beauty in our world.
I hope our community is a place where we can learn to search for beauty. This month as part of our theme-based ministry, we will especially focus on beauty: how to search for beauty and what wisdom the beautiful teaches us.
“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emerson's Essays