On the coast, early risers are drawn to the beach to watch the sunrise. Every day, they’re enticed by spectacular beauty, regardless of whether it’s warm or chilly outside. For the same reason, most of us have urged our spouses or friends to step outside to see the full moon, or a soaring bird, or a bright and fully formed rainbow.
The splendor of such things isn’t a matter of taste; they are commonly and objectively beautiful.
When we pause to think about it, it’s remarkable that our world not only works in so many miraculous ways, but that it’s also glorious to behold. More extraordinary is the fact that the beauty is gratuitous. We don’t need it — it’s simply a gift from God, an act of His grace and a revelation of His character.
God has woven beauty into the world, and there’s evidence that it thrills Him. How else can we explain peacocks and live oaks dripping with Spanish moss?
For His own reasons, God has woven beauty into the world, and there’s ample evidence that it thrills Him. How else can we explain peacocks, Siberian tigers, or live oaks dripping with Spanish moss?
In a 2002 essay, poet Lucy Shaw quoted a friend who told her, “Imagine making something as useful as a tree, as efficient at converting sunlight into food and fuel, as huge and tough as a white oak that can live 300 years, and then decorating it in spring with tiny pink leaves and pale green tassels of blossoms.”
A similar mindset must have been at work several years ago when writer Annie Dillard discussed the meaning of life. In a Life magazine article, Dillard said, “We are here to witness and abet creation. To notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each shell on the beach, but we notice each other’s beautiful face and complex nature so that creation need not play to an empty house.”
Beauty is here to be noticed, yet too often we take it for granted. We become numbed or distracted and thereby miss its message. We should go to the beach more often. We should hike the mountain trails and study the forests. Because, as Lucy Shaw wrote, “To show indifference to beauty is an insult to its Creator.”
Made in His Image to Create Beauty
God not only created a beautiful world, He enabled us — His image bearers — to create beauty too, and to step back and savor the work of our hands. It’s our God-given craving for beauty, for example, that pulls us to art museums and exhibits. It’s why so many of us gladly pay a steep price to go to concerts and music festivals. It’s why we take music lessons and art lessons and creative writing classes as well.
In all these ways, we follow the pattern of our creator. We paint because, as Shaw points out, “God was the primal Painter (night skies, palms, thunderheads, tree canopies).” We become sculptors because God is “the archetypal metal Sculptor (mountain ranges, icebergs).” Humans write music because God is “the Composer who heard the whales’ strange, sonorous clickings and songs in his head long before there were whales to sound them.” We write for the theater because God is “the Playwright who plotted the sweeping drama of Creation, Incarnation, Redemption.” We pen new poems because God is “the Poet whose Word described it all.”
Beauty Heightens Our Awareness
Many of us live in cities that are blessed with a vibrant arts community, and we’re better for it. “Art is what we say, what we sing, what we show about the beauty that is bubbling up within us,” writes Shaw. “It cries out for recognition and response.” And so, we have book festivals too. We have chamber music festivals and film festivals and sidewalk art shows.
“God not only created a beautiful world, He enabled us —His image bearers —to create beauty too, and to step back and savor the work of our hands.
In its pure form, beauty heightens our awareness of almost everything. It can startle us and enchant us. And, says Shaw, it becomes even more delightful when we recognize that we were made to absorb it. We have ears to hear music and waves on the beach. We’ve been given eyes to see rainbows and Rembrandts. We’re able to touch sand and silk. We can savor the taste of coffee and juicy oranges. We can smell the ocean air and fresh-baked bread.
Filling Our Cities With Beauty
Wherever we live, let’s treasure the beauty God built into our part of the world. Let’s also protect it, nourish it, and see to it that it’s never destroyed. Let’s create beauty, too. As God’s image bearers, and as those who are blessed to live in the world He made, let’s fill our cities and towns with art, music, books, and plays that transcend the here and now. Together, as individuals and as the Church, let’s point to glory beyond; to that which fill us with wonder.