Though there is a great deal of neglect, I still see glimpses of the love of beauty in my own life and the lives of those around me. I am the type of girl who enjoys sitting under Fall trees, picking out the prettiest leaves, swimming in a sea of reds and yellows. These leaves don’t serve any direct purpose for me outside of their beauty. Some would say that makes them gratuitous, unnecessary, that a beautiful appearance is far less important. But if it was all about use, I wouldn't choose to sit among piles of leaves and city planners wouldn’t look for space along rows of steel, concrete, and glass to find room for a tree here or there. The fact that we still make space for nature is the glimmer of hope that beauty isn't completely lost, but I worry that we are watching that space grow smaller and smaller.
“What the world is really looking for is someone who can behold.” When I heard Evan Koons say these words at last week's For the Life of the World event, it awakened something deep within me. For the Life of the World is a film series that seeks to explore the deeper meaning of Salvation and the clip above, Wine in the Library, is from the episode “Wonder." In it, Evan asks questions about the importance of beauty and the created world and the meaningful role that beauty plays in our lives. Over the last few days, the word behold has echoed in my mind, a spark ready to become a wildfire.
What does it mean to behold? To behold is to see the intrinsic value of the created world, to see the value of things beyond their usefulness. Hildebrand recognized this intrinsic value. In his introduction of Hildebrand’s The Nature of Love, John F. Crosby writes, “It is often said that the term value expresses something entirely subjective, something related to the person who places a value on a thing. While it is true that many do use value in this subjective sense, the term is capable of being used in a deeper and richer sense…”1 As he continues, it becomes clear that this subjective aspect is essential but cannot be the final word on value. Things have value in and of themselves, and “all value bears beauty.”2 This beauty-from-value is found in all things - the arts, yes, but also people and places and ideas. Upon contact with this beauty, the soul experiences delight or joy in response to it. This beauty, the beauty that could redeem a world lost in utility and materialism, is what we have neglected.
Despite the obvious joy that comes from the beautiful, the world only sees beauty as a luxury. The world doesn't see the connection between the pleasure that we get from the beautiful and the intrinsic value of the beautiful. Pleasure or joy is not the value itself, it is our response to the value that radiates from a person or thing. We so often prize things based on what they can offer to us. I’ve been told time and time again that I should have picked a different degree than English because I “will have a hard time making any money.” My love for the beautiful lines of Dickinson is seen as frivolous compared to the perceived pleasure of wealth or the comfort of job security. We live in a world that says pick your career for the money or the prestige - pick your career for its usefulness. It’s from that same skewed viewpoint that we’ve seen education put its primary focus upon math and science and neglect history, literature, and more than anything else - the arts. But a life of knowledge without appreciation will never be as full as it could be; a life solely rational is like climbing a mountain and pausing before you reach the summit. Imagine a meal with no taste - while it satisfies our physical needs, it also leaves us with a feeling that something was missing. Or another example - imagine if you were married to someone that met all of your needs but never appreciated you for your innate qualities, your real beauty. Would you feel truly loved? Being able to behold and wonder at the world is an essential part of our experience.
Because it is the beautiful that allows us to step outside of ourselves, commands us to pause and reflect upon the world around us - it is beauty that teaches us to love. The beauty of a person begs us to ignore our own needs and desires and focus on the needs of another. The beauty of nature helps us to realize that there is a Creator that crafts all things and appreciates each thing for its own sake. Beauty shows us all of the colors and flavors of life, not just a bland existence, not just living for the sake of some end goal but truly enjoying the journey, truly living.
Beauty can transform us if we just take a moment to behold.