But beauty gets dumped out, the baby with the bathwater, as an unreliable guide to anything about God. It’s not secular people I’m worried about as much as Christians.
Too many Christians believe beauty is subjective which to some means “relative” which might as well mean “satanic.”
First, beauty is not subjective. Attraction is subjective. Catherine Zeta Jones may be more beautiful than me (and I do in fact believe she is), but I am more attractive to my husband than she.
In like manner, that robin’s egg blue may be more attractive to me than the fire-engine red you’re painting on your bedroom wall. But, beauty has little bearing on attraction. In fact, attraction is much more culture-based than any objective standard. I am not attracted to hispanic men, but I am attracted to black, asian, indian and (as my husband proves) white, lean, freckled-nosed men.
Does that mean hispanic men are not beautiful? Even I know better than that. Ebony-skinned women who know they don’t fit the culture’s definition of “attractive” often do the hard work to slice apart beauty from attractiveness (Women of Color: How do they flesh it out?) Even Solomon’s wife knew this work,
“Women of Jerusalem,
my skin is dark but lovely.
It is dark like the tents in Kedar.
It’s like the curtains of Solomon’s tent (Song of Solomon 1:5).
Second, beauty is not relative. If you told me that a sunset was ugly I would question you capacity to perceive beauty, not the sunset’s beauty or the nature of beauty itself. It seems like differences of opinion have made us doubt Beauty’s integrity. Diversity of opinion indicates something about people and their souls, but it doesn’t damage the meaning of Beauty.
So how do we hunt out beauty?
The question betrays the problem. You cannot hunt for beauty, just as you cannot create desire or flush out joy. Not without permission from the Source.
Beauty is not quarry to track. Beauty happens without us being prepared for its power.
In fact, as soon as you become self-aware “This is a beautiful aspen,” the spell is broken. Beauty only works in unawares. It cannot be netted and bagged, mounted and displayed. Oh, you can try, but it ends up looking ostentatious and cold, something like the fashion in the capitol of PanEm.
You might know something is beautiful by your sharp intake of breath. Beauty knocks us off our self-consciousness, catches us off guard. The person may not even be attractive, like Mother Teresa, but they are beautiful.
A movie can be beautiful, but contain unattractive, even horrible images. The Lives of Others comes to my mind (listed in the newly updated Sparkling Resources above as a must see movie on sexuality and faith). The Lives of Others includes rape scenes, emotional abuse, interrogations, desperation, voyeurism, but the movie as a whole is beautiful, breathtaking. It stops me and reveals the beauty of this world, of the people I want to know and love.
I’d say The Diary of a Country Priest is another beautiful film, though the actors are not attractive and the story line bleak and hard. The full message of the film is beautiful in a way a movie with attractive people like Closer is not beautiful.
How can I make such sweeping judgments? How can beauty be so objective?
If you link Beauty to her closest friends, Truth and Goodness, you can find Beauty is not mere attraction, nor is it simply high fashion or cultural trends. Beauty is grounded in a Person who wraps this jewel in truth and goodness.
God sets the standard on beauty. So while a woman may be attractive she can miss being beautiful by lack of discretion (Modesty: Covering Up is Not the Answer) or unkindness. Solomon says, “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.”
The same goes for a hot guy who is prideful or greedy.
That said, I believe God created all people to be beautiful. I don’t mean this in a schmultzy way. Some people have more beauty than others, but everyone has a portion. Catherine Zeta Jones got more portions than me. Her beauty is easy to see.
I have a challenge I often give myself in large groups, where I study people who strike me as unattractive and try to find their beauty. Some people hide it really well. Unflattering clothes, unwashed hair, stooped shoulders and suspicious eyes don’t help.
But so far it’s proved a most illuminating exercise. For if God made humans to reflect him, then we, like the mountain lion that stopped me in fear last Spring and the corgi puppies that make my heart warm, are also beautiful.
We just need eyes to see.