Introduction to Beauty

Introduction to Beauty

From Soul Matters

Where do you look for beauty?

There is universal agreement that we all must make time to visit museums and sit before stunning sunsets. But seeking beauty there is not enough. Every religion agrees: The secret to encountering spiritual beauty is to visit and observe the unlikely places. Indeed, one could argue that this is the job of religion. It exists to teach us and to help us observe beauty in the less noticed places. Just think of all the seemingly odd advice that religion sends our way:

“Notice your feet!”

There’s a beloved poem by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda about a pair of his socks. In this and other poems, he brings the ordinary things around us to life, helping us see how they so clearly carry the memories and meanings of our lives. Religion does the same. It tells us that these ordinary objects are not just background but beautiful partners. They don’t just enhance our relationship with the world and each other; they are among the most important relationships we have. They are fellow journeyers in and of themselves.

“Notice what’s at the front of the protest march!”

UU minister Sean Parker Dennison writes, “The ability to see beauty is the beginning of our moral sensibility. What we believe is beautiful we will not wantonly destroy.” With this we are reminded that  beauty does more than soothe and heal. It demands. It calls. It creates commitment. It doesn’t just say “Love and appreciate me.” It says “Protect me! Fight for me!” It’s steps out in front of us and points to a precious world that needs our help. It paints a picture of new ways of living and declares, “Follow me there!” It’s not just the thing that nurtures our activist efforts. It is the reason we take to the streets.

“Notice yourself!”     

Again beautiful things are not just objects to be appreciated and adored. They are not pretty things we purchase and possess. They possess us. They are containers for pieces and parts of ourselves. We don’t just observe them; we pour ourselves into them. They don’t just sit there; they open themselves up and invite us to spill our longings, memories, hopes and hurts into their care. When we observe them, we observe and re-member ourselves. 

“Notice what’s behind it all!”

Our own Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, The world is not painted or adorned, but is from the beginning beautiful; and God has not made some beautiful things, but Beauty is the creator of the universe.” The Quaker theologian Rufus Jones writes, “Beauty has no function, no utility… It greases no wheels, it bakes no puddings. It is a gift of sheer grace, a gratuitous largesse. It must imply behind things a Spirit that enjoys beauty for its own sake and that floods the world everywhere with it… Our joy in it shows that we are in some sense kindred to the giver and revealer of it.”

Here we are reminded that beauty is not just an elegantly painted portrait. It is also the artistic force of the universe that is constantly painting us. Pulling out the elegance in each of us and the world around us to create the portrait that is life.

So, yes, friends, by all means, get yourselves to the museum this month. Make time to gaze at the color-laced sky on your evening walks in the woods. But let’s not forget to also visit the unlikely places and the beauty that awaits us there.


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