Beauty Is Crushing

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In the presence of beauty we cease to be the hero of our own story. This is because beauty reminds us that there is something—SOMEONE—greater than the self.

She got engaged. My 19-year-old daughter got engaged to Stu, a young man whose life ambition is to be a professional musician. 

I’ve been fascinated by the response of others over their good news. I expected raised eyebrows over the age but not over the career choice. It’s not that people were against the arts—it’s just...well, you don’t let your own daughter marry a musician. How will he provide for her?One woman flat-out told me that would not be okay in her family. 

I guess Christians value financial security just like everyone else. But what struck me most was people’s lack of understanding of beauty. Stella Adler explains, “Life beats down and crushes the soul, and art (which bring forth beauty) reminds you that you have one.”

The arts are important because they bring forth beauty. Beauty is a characteristic of God. God is beauty. I’m not saying he’s beautiful (I’m not sure what he looks like, so I don’t know) but I am saying is he IS beauty. This is what creation declares, whether it’s Victoria Falls, a zebra or lion roaming the Serengeti, a sunset, the ocean waves crashing on the beach, or the faint cry of a newborn. Creation declares, "God is beauty."

And the thing about beauty is that when we experience it...it knocks us out of our self-centeredness.

That’s why when you’re grumpy from a long day at work and you see a stunning sunset on your drive home, you suddenly forget you’re grumpy. For a moment, however brief, you are awestruck…the beauty takes you out of the self. God is beauty. Beauty, whether it’s in his creation or through the creation of his people, is not only crushing but decentering; an experience of beauty knock us out of our self-centeredness.

In her book, On Beauty and Being Just, Elaine Scarry argues:

1. The observer of beauty always receives a passion to share the beauty with others.

2. Beauty radically “decenters” the self and moves you to distribute attention away from yourself.

Scarry observes the vision of beauty occupied, “all the space formerly in the service of protecting, guarding, advancing the self” (or its prestige). In the presence of beauty you cease to be the hero of your own story.

This is because beauty reminds us that there’s something, SOMEONE, greater than the self. Life, my life, is about more than just me. Scarry goes so far as to argue that injustice won’t be removed simply through education, argument, and persuasion; rather, it will take an experience of beauty to knock us out of self-centeredness and induce us to become just. An interesting thought to ponder, for sure.

I want—no, I need—to see beauty. So do you. This means we have to embrace those who produce it … even if they marry our daughter.

 

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