A Thriving Soul: Beauty, Pleasure, Pain

A Thriving Soul: Beauty, Pleasure, Pain January 22, 2021

From the floor of the Baptistry?

There is education in beauty. The beauty, and the heights, made me giddy as I neared the top of the Duomo .

The view from outside, overlooking Florence, was food for the imagination, but for me the feast was inside, seeing the arches and the art, caused my highest fantasy to fail. I was too feeble to see, let alone capture such overwhelming, gigantic, beauty. Every time I read Dante, moving with him as a guide toward Paradise, I recollect the Dome done long after his death, surely full of his work and words. All over Florence there was education in beauty, human crafted, and Divine as when the sun set over the city viewed from a nearby hill.

Just recalling those moments makes me better, drives me forward toward something greater than I have yet seen.

If beauty educates, then do I always want or need more and more beauty?

God forbid!

Like any objective good, staggering beauty can be overdone, like too many sweets over the Holidays or one drink too many at the party. My soul can only stand so much beauty and so often must turn to the simpler things, the good lessons of normal days. These are beautiful, but subtly or so plainly that I miss the beauty and can see and learn some other good. The beauty does not overcome the truth, for example, in most Excel spreadsheets at the office.

There are false beauties as well, fakery. Knowing no better, I once painted over some mold in our basement. The white wall was lovely until the mold came blotching through and spoiled the room. False beauties, trumpery, a gratuitous “beauty” that is cloying or overdone can also spoil great goods. One church I visited gilded their grand piano. This managed to be both garish and to ruin the tone of the piano. The overly sentimental film, book, or artwork may be “nice” but the shadows, the difficulty, the crush note in a composition, may provide interest.

Such irregularity is not sin! The mistake of a learner is not sinful! The stumble at the piano by the aging player is not bad and may add to the beauty of the overall performance or experience for the listeners. Sufficient beauty is enough and an attempt at “more” destroys the beauty.

So it is with pleasure and with pain. The broken world that came from sin, diabolical and human, contains gratuitous pleasures and pains. These are bad, but not because they are pleasurable or painful. They are bad because too great or insufficient to the flourishing of creation. They may also be misplaced. A bit of garlic can be excellent, but not in some dishes.

But wait, how can be pain (sometimes) be good?

Pain, the absence of pleasure, or the even “hurting” in limits, keeps us safe and helps us grow. If a mild discomfort did not force me to shift in my seat while writing, damage could follow! In the same way, working through difficulties is enjoyable and gives a sense of accomplishment. “I might have failed to finish this job, but I did not!” “This logical proof was hard, but I solved it.” A game we cannot possibly lose (even as a group) would be less enjoyable. We learn through difficulties and become more mature. As a result, we take on greater challenges often leading to an increase in human knowledge and experience!

When I get good and thirsty, the water is sweeter. When I am hungry, the food is good.

This does not, naturally, mean that pain is good in itself or that with unlimited pain we could become even greater. Dehydration or starvation are too much. Just as even beauty has a time, place, and limits, so does pain. A “growing” pain is changed when there is an excess, more than was needed learn. In the light of eternity many human pains can profit, that do not seem as if they could, but others are the result of a broken system. The gears grind when they should not and keep grinding when mercy would provide relief.

Pain in an unbroken world would lack any of the evils of gratuitous pain or any hurt caused by sin. The desire caused by “lack,” hunger and thirst for the good, would still exist. The day will come in the Kingdom when this will be manifest in us all by God’s good mercy.

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