“Beauty will save the world.”
F. DOSTOYEVSKY, The Idiot
Recently I found myself sitting in a faculty concert of some amazing musicians — it was such a gift.
I just sat there and was transported to another place — a beautiful place. I found myself being overwhelmed by beauty — in a good way.
It was a good moment — a series of good moments, really. It restored my mind and soul after a hectic week.
It reminded me of the importance of beauty.
Beauty — it’s important. It can lift a soul out of the depths of despair. It can satisfy our deepest desires in this life.
It’s a foretaste of Heaven, and it keeps us going. It is Truth and Goodness and Being all wrapped into One.
And before I go any further down the deep rabbit hole of philosophy, beauty, and man’s ultimate end — I’ll summarize beauty’s importance with Dostoyevsky’s words: “Beauty will save the world”.
We need beauty. You and I need beauty. Our kids need beauty. Society needs beauty — now more than ever.
Its hard to believe, but some people want to destroy beauty. They hate it. They hate everything about it.
Perhaps it’s because they don’t understand it, or maybe it undermines their efforts to control others. Whatever it is about beauty, they want it gone.
The picture below was taken last summer in front of the Uffizi Museum in Florence. When I first turned the corner and saw this sight, I thought to myself, “well, that’s a bit extreme — all that fire power to protect a museum” — that is, until I really thought about it.
Those great works of art contained within that museum — some people want to destroy them. Why would anyone care that much about destroying something if it wasn’t incredibly important?
There are people in this world who want to oppress others. They hate beauty and art because of it’s power to give hope to people.
They hate it because it gives men and women the courage to overcome their fears and strike out against oppression.
These people who hate — they’re nothing new. We’ve seen people just like them throughout the history of the world. They’ve come and gone.
Perhaps more difficult for those with modern sensibilities to see is that there are spiritual realities that want to oppress us too — and they have influenced and emboldened the men and women who have oppressed others throughout history.
They’re real. We call them demons. They hate beauty — they hate it because it’s one of the things they fear most.
C.S. Lewis wrote in his Screwtape Letters about a fictional demon in training named Screwtape. Screwtape was assigned a human whom he was meant to win over to darkness.
Screwtape was warned to not let his “subject” experience beauty. Even something as innocent as a beautiful sunset, piece of music, or painting just might pull the subject out of the grasp of the demon’s reach. Beauty was to be avoided at all costs.
That C.S. Lewis was on to something.
Here’s the thing. There are real enemies, both seen and unseen, in this world who are trying to oppress us — and they hate beauty.
The Church stands in opposition to these enemies. The Church has always been one of the greatest supporters of human expression and is the greatest protector of authentic beauty.
Catholics within the church have supported or produced some of the greatest works of art, architecture, literature and music that the world has ever known — this is no accident.
The Church has always been a supporter of the arts, but at some point, it stopped being so supportive.
Perhaps it’s because a lot of bad art started to come into popularity — one that didn’t show the full picture of man — one that fragmented him into pieces.
Perhaps those in the church felt it was time to walk away because now art was no longer what it was meant to be — it no longer reflected beauty, truth and goodness.
Perhaps if C.S. Lewis lived today, his Screwtape would have decided that the best way to battle beauty’s power was to distort it, until what once lifted a man’s soul to the heights of heaven now lowered man’s thoughts to the worst in humanity — to the ugly and depraved. Hmm…
Call me crazy, but a cross in a jar of urine — not art. A picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe with human feces smeared on it — also, not art. And yet, some of the most prestigious museums in our country have displayed them as such.
These are the types of things that have caused good people everywhere to want to run the other way, to give up even on art and the arts in the modern day.
And I’m willing to admit that maybe art isn’t any longer about transcendence. Maybe modern art is more about the artist’s own introspection into his own soul — and maybe all that artist sees in himself is ugliness and shame and animalistic tendencies.
But that’s not what I see. I see beauty deep down inside of even the ugliest of hearts. I see goodness. But I also see a war going on in their souls. A war that will only be won by Beauty itself.
As Christian’s we must hold our ground in this battle to uphold beauty. We can’t give up on the arts because of the ugliness that we see there.
But it can’t just be about holding our ground. It must be about gaining ground by producing good and beautiful art, music, literature, architecture and design.
We have a duty to do our best to bring beauty to the world.
And maybe you’re not gifted in the arts, but there’s countless other ways that you can bring beauty into this world of ours.
If you haven’t read Pople John Paull II’s letter to artists, you must take a moment to look at it. It’s good. Really good.
One of my absolute favorite quotes contained within it is a reiteration of the Church’s appeal to artists at the end of the 2nd Vatican Council. In a nutshell, it speaks of the importance of beauty.
“This world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair.”
Why has the Church always been one of the greatest promoters and patrons of great works of art, architecture, literature and music?
Perhaps it’s because the Church knows that Beauty will lead us back to God, because God is Beauty.
Now more than ever, we need to prepare ourselves and our kids to experience real beauty. We need to put effort into helping our kids develop a “taste” for beauty — the real stuff of beauty — not the imitations.
We can’t just take away the ugly from our kid’s sight — we need to fill that vacuum with good things.
The antidote to all that’s ugly in the world is to fill their hearts, minds, and souls with good things, with beautiful things.
It’s not a matter of if they’ll encounter ugliness in this world, it’s a matter of when.
They’re going to see it. They’re going to see the ugliness of war, violence, pornography, and hate throughout their lives. But encountering ugliness isn’t the real problem.
It’s the not being able to recognize the ugliness when it makes its appearance that’s the real problem.
We need to prepare our kids to recognize it and know how to respond when it comes.
I like to take my cue from those who are trained to deal with counterfeit money operations in our country. These people don’t spend time worrying about every counterfeit out there.
Instead, they study the real thing. They study our currency until they know every intimate detail of it.Once they know the real thing, the counterfeit is glaringly obvious.
It’s the same thing in parenting. If we take the time to let our kids be immersed in the good, the true and the beautiful, they’re going to know the counterfeits when it comes their way.
So that’s our job. And we need to take it seriously.
And we should try to keep ugliness at bay for as long as possible, until they’re mature enough to respond to it properly.
At some point, though, we’re going to have to step back and let them go out and do something beautiful with their lives.
And at some point, they’re going to encounter the ugly, the horrific, the worst in humanity — and they’re going to rely upon the way we’ve equipped them to respond.
These kids of ours, they’re going to need Beauty to save them. They’re going to need Beauty to lead them.
And they need us to help prepare them to carry that Beauty with them as they go out into the world.
Lord, have mercy. We have our work cut out for us.
Linking up with Kelly.