This is the third, and final, installment on a series on Creating a Practice of Looking. The first post talked about the effect beauty has on us as humans and why we are so moved by what we deem beautiful. The second post argued that if beauty is affecting us, then we should stop and pay attention to what is considered beautiful and how we are being moved by it. This third post, then, is a practical approach to making space for beauty instead of just being pulled along a current of needs and desires.
From the missionary who has seen far too much, to the pastor who lives in the heartache of others’ lives; from the mom who can’t get a moment to think, to the lawyer who blows out his pre-frontal cortex with non-stop analytical thought, we all are in need of a great big pause — time and space to both think through the 86,400 seconds we live, and move, and have our being in — and also to surrender to not thinking at all. We all are in need of the Beauty that says “I see you and hear you and understand you” and yet, who also exists with us. So, how do we do it? How do we connect to this source of Beauty?
It’s not a coincidence that I write this post now, the days leading up to Christmas. Our cultural conditioning makes us long for storybook endings and perfectly placed flurries of snow and gleaming, bright grins. These are the days we want beauty the most. We want it in twinkling lights, decorated trees, and human beings who suddenly have perfect character. We want something to connect to our weary hearts. Maybe even more so this year. Because this past year has been a blast of worry, fear, anger, anxiety, frustration, lament, heartache, and shock. When you live in the midst of destruction like that, it’s really hard not to hate the silver lining type of talk, and you start to doubt whether beauty can exist.
But beauty is there. It’s just riskier and less consumable than we thought it was.
Real beauty isn’t something that we can fake or conjure up. Beauty isn’t something you merely create. It is the by product of a relationship. And that’s not something than can be trapped. It’s something that takes a part of you. You have to lean in, give a little, and have a little bit of ridiculous faith for. Because the artist who puts stroke to canvas knows that things might not turn out the way they want, but they lend their ideas to the canvas nonetheless.
If you want more beauty in your life, you have to stop, look, and value the sacrifice of others, and you have to be willing to take a step yourself to create something better than all the cynicism you see. That’s why the Ebola caretakers are beautiful. It’s why the struggling single mom is beautiful. It’s why the special education room always has a bit of unexplained joy flowing from it. It’s why the counselor who sits in the mud feels so fulfilled at the end of the day. It’s why it’s easy to see beauty in a dirty house, a fractured soul, or a simple jar. Something happened in these lives and places. Something was offered and something was taken. There’s a story of sacrifice. There’s a story of giving of one’s self.
Because beauty might not be about us creating, but it is, for sure, about co-creation. It’s about being invited, beckoned, by a need, desire, or belief, and then responding with ideas that better the world you live in.
That’s why Christians’ story of Christmas is the most beautiful idea to them. A God saw and heard their need, and didn’t have to respond, but did. He came as a little baby, who allowed Himself to be molded and shaped by the people that He was trying to create a better life for. And eventually, it took a great sacrifice — something that looked like failure — but something that solidified relationship. “I am yous, and you are mine,” He said. And then He stood, and still stands by this thing they created together. Selah. Beauty.
Do you want to have more beauty? Then commit to co-creation. Commit to looking for something you can join in on. That can happen in a dance. It can happen as you ride your bike, bending on the curves of a trail. It can happen as you clothe the naked, feed the hungry, or counsel the brokenhearted. The only way it can’t happen is when you stay in your own self-controlled bubble, insisting that you have created enough, loved enough, shared enough, or are right enough.