I once decided that our future prosperity could be secured by purchasing Southern California real estate. This would provide a place for my parents to live and start a community of college students who could learn from them. My best deal was up the street from us. We would move into the house while students lived in our old home.
The engineers inspected and gave us a thumbs up.
The house was fine. The detached garage, it turned out, was fine, just not for humans. The fine folk that lived in the house had stored years of dog waste, trash, and other dreadful items in the garage and they left all of them for us.
We started clearing things out, with lots of help from friends. It was a hot day for SoCal and Hope looked up at a corner of the garage to see rats running in and out of the ceiling. Hope was not pleased and so the Reynolds family went to war with rat-kind.We unleashed Athena, our brand new wonder cat, and she was mighty before the Lord. Many rats died. For those she could not reach, we called experts and they unleashed modern technology on those rats.
Our neighbors woke up most mornings to dead rats in the front lawn. We persisted and soon all living rats were gone. They had destroyed the garage, so most of the structure had to go. As I was pulling down a bit of the ceiling, I learned a lesson.
When rats eat poison, they grow thirsty. Rats will eat or drink anything in such a state. Imagine if you will a rat stuck in a trap, not yet dead. Now consider another rat staggering towards his friend. I know what results, because when the ceiling tile fell, the trap and the two dead rats, locked in an eternal embrace, spiraled down towards me. I then learned more biology. Leave something like two dead rats in a trap in a SoCal garage and flies will come. They will come and the biological function will happen.
Maggots will be aborning.
They surely will.
At my feet exploded two dead rats locked together by the jaw, one in a trap, with maggots.
This was not beautiful.
You might, just now, be thinking: “Why does Reynolds tell such a disgusting story in such great detail. That’s disgusting.”
Nobody thinks he is gross for finding the story sickening. Instead, he rightly questions my judgment in telling the story or his wisdom in continuing to listen. The story is gross, not the listener! This is suggestive of a truth that can be demonstrated in other ways: beauty (or the lack of beauty) is not in the eye of the beholder, but in the object being seen, imagined, or remembered.
The scene is disgusting, not the listener, though the story teller, as Plato points out, might share in the ugliness. One should be careful about telling ugly stories.
Often a clever listener will suggest that he finds the story beautiful, so the subjectivity of beauty is proven. If he is being honest, this might merely point to a defective sense of beauty. If for Valentine’s one gets “two dead rats in a trap with maggots,” one has chosen a beau badly. More interesting is the challenge that looked closely at the two dead rats, the trap, and maggots have a kind of beauty. They are of interest, especially to scientific types.
This is deeply true and points to a secondary point: existence, mere being, brings with it beauty. God made a good creation and so studied, found in their place, they carry a beauty often weird, but wonderful. Humans have made a world out of joint where rats end up where they should not be, maggots doing the job God gave them startle us in odd places, and we create terrible poisons. Much of the ugliness of the scene is man made, like most of the true ugliness in God’s creation.
One day Hope and I were on the Isle of Skye looking at the Atlantic. We had a bit of Talisker, bread, cheese, and some apples. Hope was wearing a blue sweater that matched the sky and her eyes. There is no way, given my ability to write, for me to describe how beautiful everything I saw was by the light of a gentle Sun on a cool, but not too cold day. Certainly, I was happy, but the world, especially Hope, made me so. She was beautiful, Skye was beautiful, the drink and bread was good.
All was well. Beauty was there and beauty is here, because I am in my Father’s world.
Whoever you are, made as God made you, working out your salvation as God intended, you are beautiful. This is true even if culture rejects the image of God in you. Of course, we all might create ugliness in ourselves or others. May we have mercy and strive to create and see beauty.