Have you ever thought of beauty this way, as coming home? There’s a nostalgia to it, as if it’s something you recognize with all your senses and long to return to. But it’s not a return as much as a coming. Beauty is where we are headed. It’s what we are being formed into. Beauty, when encountered (and if we open our eyes and look its treasures are everywhere), is a breaking in of the future into the present. Beauty beckons us. It was with us in the beginning. It shows us what is so treacherous about sin and teaches us that things are not as they seem. It helps us face our brokenness and gives us an ache to hand it over, our meager raw supplies, as an offering to create with beauty. Because beauty is creative. The best kind of it. The only kind of it, really.
I think this is an area where the church is missing the juice. We can have all of our doctrinal statements in a row, all the boxes checked. We can have our ecclesial liturgies and processes. And we can miss the beauty. It’s like the disciples on the road to Emmaus—they were talking about the word of God and missed the fact that they were talking with the Word embodied. They missed the juice of hermeneutics. And there he was. He was gracious enough to show them. But it wasn’t his words alone that opened their eyes. He became the host at the table, blessing, breaking, and serving the bread. Fellowship, sacrament, symbol—even the breaking itself. Oh, how their hearts burned inside them! They were known, sought after. He came to show them the most beautiful thing that they were incapable of imagining on their own.
Tragically, and yet understandably, we are seeing a lot of deconstruction of the faith in our day. Many are realizing how disillusioned they were, having been caught up in a church that enables wolves, or in a manufactured system that calls itself Christianity. They may have even had the right words, known the so-called right arguments, affirmed the right ethics…and yet they were in a place that allowed leaders to manipulate them for their own gain. They were in a place called church that missed the beauty—the pure delight in communion with the triune God and one another. When they begin to grasp the abuses in this place, they were never given the foundation of goodness to hold fast to.
And then there are those deconstructing who were complicit in a farce themselves. Maybe they were in it to be right, to be seen, to be followed. But their own shame buried deep inside them wouldn’t allow them to be vulnerable enough to see the beauty—to truly be known. Which means they had to acquire a faux power over others to shield them from themselves and their God. It doesn’t work, but they try. And then, of course, others who get caught up in this may begin to deconstruct trying to make sense of it all.
And then there are those who get caught up in the latest evangelical movements but realize that they never get to the heart of the matter. What are the beauties of life and how do we make it through the suffering? What do we want to be in the end? Who do we want to be with?
The Christian faith offers theological answers to some of our basic questions about why there is death and suffering, or why we do the things we don’t want to do and don’t do the things that we do want to do. And it shares the good news of the gospel. But it seems that we have often fallen short of entering and living into this actual world of new life in Christ with all of our senses. Beauty is for the mind and body, together. It invites us in.
Deconstruction is the opposite of creativity. And yet, it is necessary to peel away the false to get to the raw real. But it is a terrible state on its own. We need creativity. We were made for it. Sure, there may be some painful, time-consuming, and essential things to unlearn. But our human nature propels us to construct. What will it be? Will it be beauty? “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
In other words, we were created to be known in order that we might further steward and create beauty—which in turn cycles back to deepen the relational process of being known.
[Beauty] is that which draws our attention with wonder and welcome and that ultimately leads us to worship—not worship the object itself but worship God in gratitude, humility, and joy.
Beauty welcomes us in the sense that it is invitational, vulnerable, and unhurried. It tells us we are wanted in its presence. And we will see soon enough, beauty in art welcomes our broken parts as well as those with which we are more comfortable. Beauty leads us to worship by enabling us to live in the real world, the world of trauma and shame that is so pervasive, and then to see through it.
There is a great mystery in which our encounter with beauty evokes within us a sense of coming home, as it were—as sense that we are encountering something we recognize but we have never seen before.
And here’s the totally awesome part where science and neurobiology back up what I have been learning in both life and in the Song: beauty comes before understanding. Seriously. Even as infants, it is our right hemisphere of our brain—the place where our senses perceive—that is firing first, longing for beauty. This is where we find attachment. Dr. Thomson explains how we first sense beauty before we can then see goodness and want to dig deeper into the truths laden in it.
Are you noticing, appreciating, and participating in beauty? It is so healing and invigorating. It is in a sense truly discovering reality and joining in its creativity. Beauty is evangelical in the sense that it ignites our eschatological imaginations. Not only do we have beauty in things like nature, artwork, song, food, poetry, and sport, but in people themselves. And even more so, the beauty we create together in relationship, in the living, through our suffering even, is a pursuing of holiness together as we honestly and collectively hold what Kelly Kapic calls the “reality of human existence—including dignity and struggle, universality and particularity, relationality and personal identity, all understood within the framework of love and communion.”
Dr. Thompson sets forth a model in doing this with what he calls confessional communities. I will write another post about that. But, as I wrote earlier, we are beckoned to this because our deepest desire is to be known. That’s why beauty beckons us. It is calling us home.
I am quoting from an advanced reader copy in which changes may still be made before the final version. Taken from The Soul of Desire , Copyright (c) 2021 by Curt Thompson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com