What is beauty?
Is there an answer to that question, or is it—as the saying goes—truly in the eye of the beholder?
I think beauty is a lot like truth: relative, if you look at it a certain way. But when it all comes down to it not one of us can elude the reality of what actually is. Just because it scares us or we don’t understand it doesn’t mean it isn’t real. And just as we can ignore truth or put up walls to block it out, we can do the same to beauty. We also tend to redefine beauty the same as we redefine truth to fit into the way we view the world, or to explain our experiences.
For anyone who has ever blocked out beauty, I understand. There lies in true beauty a certain ache. It is glorious yet excruciating and very difficult to describe, this ache. When beauty finds us, it can be easier to look away or to get distracted, because beauty calls to the deepest parts of us. It challenges us to awaken whatever dreams and passions may be dormant and to face the risks required if we are to embrace that kind of pursuit again.
We face a paradox. Because, you see, we were made for nothing less than beauty in its rawest form. We know this, but it scares us. Most of us have a love/hate relationship with the phenomenon of beauty. If we embrace it, we are forced to ask ourselves the question of our own beauty. We also have to face that terrifying doubt of not knowing if we can hold onto it. Beauty seems so fleeting—so elusive at times that it can feel like it slips away as soon as we decide to reach out and grab it. Much like a shadow. It’s there, but we can’t quite touch it. And it leaves at will based on the angle of the sun. How can we know when the sun will hit just right again? Why can’t we stay in these moments?
Beauty initiates longing, and longing is painful. Usually when we long for something we don’t have it yet. This feeling can be so powerful that it can either lead us into a level of depression because we can’t attain what we long for, or it can awaken us and lead us to take action that can have incredible repercussions.
I was recently reminded in a somewhat unconventional way of some of the longings I had as a child and teenager. Some of these longings I never even knew how to put into words—but it was certain music and movies and moments that awakened them and whispered in the caverns of my heart:
You were made for more than this.
These longings used to stir me up; they were the ones who first told me what it was that I was passionate about. For the most part, I allowed them to fuel my imagination and cause me to dream. Even if it was just me laying on my bed at night and thinking about all the incredible things I would do when I was older, I dreamed. Beauty found me, and I couldn’t deny its power. And yet it did produce this ache, because when reality hit and not everything in my life consisted of wonder, magic, and heroic adventures, I felt torn between two worlds. It seemed that the world of my longings and this indefinable beauty was merely a fantastical place, lost somewhere in the intangible cosmos.
So, back to the reminder I had last week. It came in the form of seeing a band perform that I used to claim as my favorite band of all time back in junior high and high school. They’re called Switchfoot. When I was younger, I think there was something both in their lyrics and in the heart of the band that called to me. I don’t think I knew why—but it always resonated. Here are some examples of lyrics that spoke to me:
“You were meant to live for so much more.”
“I dare you to move.”
“You’re raising the dead in me.”
“This is your life, are you who you wanna be?”
“I’m learning to breathe.”
“I’m on fire when you’re near me.”
I’ll stop there. Hearing some of these songs again as well as some new ones with a similar feel seemed to reawaken this ache of beauty in my heart and made me reminisce about what I used to feel way back when. Art, for me, has always had the ability to bring me into those beautiful moments—those moments you just want to soak in. Those moments where you can look at everyone around you and realize how freaking beautiful each one of them is, and you just want to stay there forever.
But as much as we ache for it, as much as we try to stay there, we never do. The other night as I thought about this, I realized why I don’t feel as much as I used to. Because I became afraid of the ache. It hurt too much to know this beauty and yet lose it just as quickly as I found it—over and over again. So I unintentionally blocked it out. I don’t know exactly when this started—maybe just gradually over time. Perhaps it was the product of a disillusionment I wasn’t even aware of. But I realized the other night that I had lost something from my youth, and I wondered where it had gone.
On this side of eternity, beauty will always seem to come and go. It is there. It does exist just like the shadows that reflect tangible substance. But we live in a world filled with imperfection and false truths and second-hand beauty.
So we must ask ourselves this question: Will we allow the distractions and the dim trappings of this Earth to steal our affection because we believe we can never attain what it is we really want? Or will we learn to recognize and acknowledge those moments of beauty—in fact, our own beauty, and live with the ache because maybe it is the only thing with the potential to help us become our truest selves? Maybe it is the only thing strong enough to make us take the risks necessary to see dreams turn into reality.
I don’t want to be afraid of beauty anymore. I was made for it. The beauty in art and in people is the whisper of a very real Creator who is calling for us, His children, to awaken and go after those dreams that the world calls impossible, illogical, or unworthy.
But, remember? He says the foolish things are wise.
Who wants to be a fool with me?