"Beauty Will Save the World"
"Well, that's just beautiful!" When was the last time you said that? What were you seeing or hearing? Was it something in nature, a mountain or flower or tree? Or maybe it was a specimen of fine craftsmanship or artistry like a piece of fine furniture, a custom-made car, or maybe a delicious meal. Whether man-made or something from God's creation most people can at times find themselves awestruck by things they regard as being beautiful.
Some people go so far as to say that "beauty will save the world." In Leo Tolstoy's novel, "The Idiot", Prince Myshkin says, "I believe the world will be saved by beauty." Another great Russian writer, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, referenced the phrase in his 1970 speech in acceptance of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Not only authors and poets, but philosophers from Socrates to the moderns consider beauty to be a virtue on par with goodness, justice and truth.
But still, isn't it going a little too far to say that "beauty will save the world?"
After all, what does this really have to do with anything? Is there any "practical" value in beautiful things? What would a list of "10 Ways to Save the World through Beauty" look like anyway? We're all looking for that kind of list, aren't we? Five steps to success. 10 Steps to a better relationship, more profitable business, better strategies to improve our image and advance our career. They're all great. They all work. You could probably have all the success you want if you would just fully implement the advice columns you already have in your files, or on your phone for that matter. We're practical people looking for practical solutions. We have to focus on what is really important.
The past few weeks have been unlike any I have ever experienced. I suspect you would say the same. The required distance between me and others has ranged from inconvenient to eerie. It's been difficult to carry on with my normal activities. Something made even stranger by the ominous but invisible cloud known as COVID-19. But while it has taken much away from us it has also shown us the importance of many things that we have taken for granted. The simple pleasure of singing together with other musicians is something I have missed. I bet you can name a few things you're missing as well.
I'm involved in two local choirs of volunteer singers. One is the church choir I get to direct at First Church in Springdale, Arkansas and the other is the Singing Men of Arkansas. The fellowship each group enjoys and the sheer pleasure of making music together is a thing of beauty. The amateur nature of each group notwithstanding, the music they make is at times transcendent and leaves us in awe of what we make together. What's this beauty good for? The benefits of music are well researched and documented but that's not what we're thinking about when a song leaves us transfixed and momentarily speechless as the final sounds fade away.
So, back to the title I gave this article, "Beauty will save the world." It's an intriguing idea, isn't it? Some might dismiss it as preposterous naivete while others see it as profound. But for all of those who have been captivated and "stopped in their tracks" by something beautiful, there's something about beauty that draws us out of ourselves and that's often the first step at truly "finding" ourselves. And in a world when many people feel lost, an encounter with something that they find truly beautiful may be just the light they need to see themselves and others more clearly. Whether it will save the world or not, every encounter with beauty, of whatever kind, leaves us richer, more compassionate, and perhaps even wiser for the experience.
Pausing for a moment, or perhaps to linger for a while to enjoy something beautiful, also has a profound spiritual foundation as we see in Psalm 27
One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. 5 For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.
Now, that's just beautiful!
The VIA Institute identifies the appreciation of beauty and excellence as one of 24 foundational character strengths that all of us share. If you'd like to see where this strength occurs in your life, you can take their free survey here. VIA Survey