I would like to make the case for beauty.
Here is my manifesto: Beauty inherently inspires us to live more beautifully. The truest things in the world are also the most beautiful. Beauty, truth, and goodness – these three are always inextricably linked together, or else each is incomplete.
The poet John O’Donohue speaks rightly that “an awful lot of urban planning, particularly in poor areas, has doubly impoverished the poor by the ugliness which surrounds them. And it’s understandable that it’s so difficult to reach and sustain gentleness there.” Unjust as it is, there is a reason nobody wants to live in certain areas of town. In fact, recent studies have shown that an increase in green space in cities statistically lowers crime.
In the same way, beauty invites us to live in a sphere of goodness and gentleness. Think of a book like Les Miserables or a song that inspires you to live your life well. There is an aspect of beauty beyond pretty, beyond elegant, beyond aesthetic. It calls to our innate dignity as humans created in the image of God – eternal souls who are placed here on earth for more than utilitarian survival. Beauty echos in this eternal space in us.
Is it possible, even in areas of ugliness, suffering, war or grinding poverty to retain a sense of the beautiful? I love O’Donohue’s reminder that “as we are speaking, there are individuals holding out on frontlines, holding the humane tissue alive in areas of ultimate barbarity, where things are visible that the human eye should never see. And they’re able to sustain it, because there is, in them, some kind of sense of beauty that knows the horizon that we are really called to.”
It’s part of our nature to be drawn to a truly beautiful place. C.S. Lewis said, “We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”
We don’t just enjoy beauty; we hunger for it. And this means we must either forever follow a siren’s song, or discover a deeper beauty – a beauty that can be found in every person, every place, every story. A beauty that points to an eternal city whose perfection we grasp only a glimmer. I like the idea of holding on to a front line of beauty and gentleness within our hearts. To me, it is the recognition of the image of God in every person we meet, the presence of God’s spirit with us everywhere we go. This is the “horizon we are really called to” – a beauty that leads us straight into the beautiful arms of Christ.
So may we not be ashamed to love beauty, to pursue it, to make space for it. May we not forget that creativity and joy are just as much a part of the kingdom of heaven as justice and righteousness. And may we always be inspired by the beautiful, the good, and the true as we hold out the front lines of gentleness and compassion, wherever we may be.
I don’t know if the world will be saved by beauty, but I know the world has been saved by Goodness. And isn’t purely selfless goodness the most beautiful thing of all?