Friday, October 4, 2013

Understanding Beauty

Yesterday I wrote about the beautiful day.  Obviously that day is gone.  I have memories of the day, its beauty, and how much I enjoyed it.  But it exists only in memory.  That does not make it any less real.  But it is not present.  Today is a new and different day.  And it, too, will disappear with the night and give way to tomorrow.  Such is the running of chronos---Greek word for chronology or time.

However, I cannot get my mind off beauty.  That’s ok.  I don’t know as much about beauty as I do about other things.  I have much to learn about beauty.  I want to learn how to sense it more deeply.  I want to learn how to appreciate it more profoundly.  I want to be moved by it.  I am sure there is something significantly spiritual about beauty that I don’t yet grasp.

In my attempt to grasp more significantly that spiritual aspect of beauty, I was reminded of some writing that appeared years ago.  Rollo May was one of my favorite writers back in my younger, formative days.  So I turned again to something he wrote called My Quest for Beauty. 

May writes, “Beauty is the experience that gives us a sense of joy and a sense of peace simultaneously.”  Already I am engaged with these words.  I am struck by his statement, beauty is an experience.  I am not sure what I would have said, but it probably would not suggest that it was an experience.  Of course in saying that, I am not sure what I thought it was.  Perhaps my idea of beauty is too abstract, too heady.  Surely beauty is an experience.  That is exactly what the case was when I wrote about the beautiful day.  It was an experience of the day---the beautiful day.  

The second thing that strikes me in the words of Rollo May is the fact that the experience of beauty brings a sense of joy and peace.  Who can be against these?  I would love to have that sense of joy and peace every day.  However, joy and peace are not commodities like corn or gas.  There is no filling station where you pull up and load up.  “Fill ‘er up with joy and peace,” I want to ask!  Beauty is an experience, not a commodity. 

May continues his helpful explication of beauty.  He tells us that “Beauty is serene and at the same time exhilarating; it increases one’s sense of being alive.”  That is quite a contrast.  Beauty is serene.  I appreciate serenity.  It is an antidote to the craziness and stupidity of our world.  All too often, I am amazed at my own craziness and stupidity!  Some days it feels like I am careening through time.  I bounce from event to event, from class to class.  I make it through, but what did I experience?  Was there any beauty?  Probably not if I did not also experience some serenity. 

But May also tells me there might be some exhilaration.  I wonder how many of us ever experience exhilaration?  Doubtlessly, that is why many of us turn to sports or some venue like that.  We will experience exhilaration when our home team scores a run or a touchdown.  When our team wins, we feel like we win, too.  But it is vicarious.  We have not played the game; it was not really “our” win. 

Apparently, beauty can do it.  I am going to continue being open to this experience of beauty.  I want its sense of serenity and exhilaration.  I want that sense of peace and joy it delivers into our lives.  When I become more disciplined in my approach, I can experience it not only with sunny, beautiful days; it can come with any day. 

Finally, Rollo May tells us that “Beauty gives us not only a feeling of wonder; it imparts to us at the same moment a timelessness, a repose---which is why we speak of beauty as being eternal.”  These words hit home.  A couple days ago when I wrote about the beauty of the day, I am confident I was experiencing the wonder that beauty elicits. 

Now that I think about it, we cannot talk about something being “wonderful” if there is not some precipitating wonder behind it.  So what really was happening was this sense of wonder, which I experienced and called “wonderful.”  And behind that was the real source, namely, beauty.  In that brief moment all three were connected for me. 

Somehow in the beauty of that day, I experienced the beauty and the wonder that proceeds from beauty.  And I called it “wonderful.”  Of course, at one level, it is fleeting.  That day is gone.  A new day keeps coming.  But on the other hand, beauty is timeless.  It is a repose, as May calls it.  In this sense it is eternal.

Funny to think about: recently I experienced eternity---fleeting eternity.  And it was wonderful!  

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