Beauty! Beauty! Beauty!

Contrary to what some of the reviews have claimed, I am not writing The Auralia Thread to preach a message, to allegorize the Gospel, or to entertain. I wrote Auralia’s Colors because it gave me a way to explore the powerful mystery of Beauty.

Storytelling gives me a way to ask, in all kinds of ways, why I am drawn again and again to beauty, nourished by it, transformed by it… if the world is a meaningless accident. And Cyndere’s Midnight is proving to be another worthwhile journey for me (and, I hope it will be for you), as I go back into that same question, equipped with different lenses. Now, if I have enough time, I hope to bring traces of beauty to that journey itself. But the process of writing has again proven inspiring and revealing for me. I would write these stories even if there was no one to read them.

I am drawn to movies for the same reason. Even on the big screen, Beauty is infused with mystery and capable of humbling revelation. I find it in art from all over the world, in journeys dark and strange, whether G, PG-13, or R-rated. This last year, I found it in the candlelight of Into Great Silence and the pillar of apocalyptic fire and smoke in There Will Be Blood; in the children’s faces in Killer of Sheep and the dazzling sunlight and the compassionate women of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; in a community’s transformation within Lars and the Real Girl and in the animation and resolution of Ratatouille; in the train robbery at the beginning of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and in the passionate performances of the musicians in Once. And then, last week, I found myself out of breath from the beauty captured in one sky-minded moment in Syndromes and a Century.

On the other hand, I find myself starved for beauty when I pay attention to most of the safe, sanitized “art” and entertainment that comes with the stamp of approval from those moral watchdogs who proclaim themselves the authorities on what is acceptable in art and entertainment. In their efforts to make all things simple, straightforward, and easy-to-swallow, they’ve stripped away the danger and the beauty and characterize what is truly beautiful. They’ve taken a lavish feast, and distilled it into a vitamin to be swallowed in a gulp.

So, as I stare out on a cold, blue-skied day full of danger and glory, and as I pack my bags for a weekend in what I’m told is the most beautiful country in Texas, I have beauty on the brain. I’m hungry for a feast, not a pill. I want a performance, not a pep talk.

Thus, I was overjoyed to find a whole series of deep thoughts about beauty posted on the blog of my good friend Jeff Berryman — an inspiring writer and actor, and a minister as well.

Looking for inspiration? Meditate on these short contemplations of beauty.

Thank you, Reverend Berryman!

1. Beauty

2. Beauty is Relationship

3. Beauty is Order

4. Beauty is Tension

5. Beauty and Race

A few excerpts:

I am convinced that the life of the Kingdom has truth, goodness, and beauty in it. I recently received catalogs from the major Evangelical publishing houses. Not one book about beauty. Not one.

Beauty depends on tension for its release into the hearts of the perceiver. Tension is a crucial piece of the context for any aesthetic flash of insight, revelation, or delight. Tension is the road along which balance must travel, the occasional stops being points of potential greatness and beauty. Almost as if our very precariousness is the ground from which beauty rises.

Trouble is we don’t like precariousness. We often run from the tensions suggesting themselves both in everyday and artful life. But perhaps we should lean into the tensions of our lives, working for that moment in which the force of our spirits suddenly finds the lift in the turbulence, finds the place where opposing forces are forced into harmony for just a bit of what my friend calls “laminar flow.”

Order is a word that makes us nervous because of its ties to ideas of command and power. Artists tend to move against the status quo, upset the “order” of things, but still, they have to bring their materials into “order” if they hope to communicate and/or inspire toward change.

I know all of this is abstract. But can you think of a concrete example of beauty that does not demonstrate order in some fashion? Even that art that seeks to shock and pull us out of stupor or equilibrium must do so in an ordered fashion in order to communicate.

If a relationship is foundational to beauty, it calls into question the polarities of objectivity vs. subjectivity. (Does an object have beauty if there is no one to perceive it?) My answer to this is a firm yes, because God is always there to perceive it. Somehow, this relationship of elements we label beauty finds its beginnings, in very concept, in the mind of God. Yet if there is no God, then I would have to say no, that objects (or any other reality we might label beautiful) have no objective beauty, because until there is a subjective mind that can perceive the pleasing arrangement, the arrangement would be irrelevant, except that there is a function the arrangement facilitates.

I’ve been using “beauty is…” statements. How about:

Beauty is newness. Beauty is fear pushed aside. Beauty is trust replacing distrust. Beauty is approach and welcome. Beauty is hospitality. Beauty is acknowledging ignorance (on my part). Beauty is the face of forgiveness. Beauty is chosen relationship. Beauty is shared laughter and vision about what might be, the dream of Dr. King come true, the kingdom of God lived out in small pockets of experience between people who see each other as human beings, image carriers of the Divine.

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  • http://www.coulterfamily.net/ScottCoulter Scott Coulter

    Hey, is comment #5, by any chance, Andrew Peterson the singer-songwriter-newly published author? The guy who did the album “The Far Country” that I listen to over and over and over again?

    Because if that’s you, I’ve always known that you and Jeffrey would love each other’s work and thought that you two ought to meet.

    And if not… well, it was worth asking, right?

    –sdc

  • http://trinitystation.blogspot.com thewileyman

    Thanks for posting those links. I needed to read those today.

  • http://lookingcloser.org Jeffrey Overstreet

    Helprin’s A Soldier of the Great War is one of my top five favorite novels (alongside Winter’s Tale, by the same author, another book with beauty on every page.)

  • andrewpeterson

    A fine book whose main character Alessandro is a connoisseur of beauty, thrown into the horror of war: A Soldier of the Great War, by Mark Helprin. It changed the way I thought of beauty.

  • sjdeal

    It sounds like you and I are similar types of authors then. We write for wonder’s sake and because we happen to find whatever we are writing about to be beautiful. Sweet.

  • http://viz.tumblr.com tickletext

    Like Aslan, like love, beauty is dangerous.

  • http://lookingcloser.org Jeffrey Overstreet

    Nope. I’m going to check my local libraries…

  • http://blog.swartzentruber.net/CurtBlog/curtblog/default.aspx skills0

    Jeffrey, have you ever read “The Evidential Power of Beauty: Science and Theology Meet” by Fr. Thomas Dubay. It covers some of the same concepts.


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