Typically our first reaction to the word beauty” has to do with physical attractiveness. I googled beauty to see what would come up and it was all about beauty products, makeup, fashion trends and hair salons. When I clicked on images for beauty all that came up was screen after screen of female models. So, for the sake of discussion, let’s label this type of beauty glamour, and move on to a deeper spiritual meaning.
Krista Tippett, in her insightful book “Becoming Wise,” re-framed beauty in a whole new light for me. I was especially fascinated by a conversation she had with a Muslim law professor at UCLA and a Jewish rabbi. Professor Khaled Abou el Fadl linked spirituality intimately with beauty and insisted “that the future of Islam lies in recovering its core moral value of beauty.” Rabbi Harold Schulweis, spoke of the Hebrew scripture (our OT) and “the beauty of Holiness.”
(For the full video version, click here.)
But what does it mean to have a moral value of beauty? And what does the passage from 1 Chronicles 16 that talks “the beauty of Holiness” mean? I’ve found that the Bible itself doesn’t offer much direction with these questions; however, many spiritual writers have fleshed it out clearly for us in a way that makes sense and is meaningful.
Khaled explains that, “Beauty is in creation, not destruction, and in balance. It is in the human intellect and the human heart and to apply sacred text and knowledge toward creating things that edify and enliven.” Beauty is experienced in those things that build up and are life-giving.
And Schulweis explains that the beauty of holiness is actually the beauty of “wholeness… not just of forms and shapes, but of relationships.” Relationships that are loving, healing, compassionate, supportive and giving.
Celtic theologian John O’Donohue says that, “beauty is that in the presence of which we feel more alive.” In other words, it feeds our souls. “[B]eauty isn’t all about just niceness and loveliness. Beauty is about more rounded substantial becoming.” Beauty is “about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.”
When we expand the understanding of beauty in this way it becomes so much more than glamour. Now it brings to mind images of poetry, music and art. I picture parents and kids building sandcastles on the beach, food cooked with love and care, weddings, baptisms and, yes, even funerals. I think of relationships that are based on equality, compassion and love, gifts given without attachment, and volunteering. Beauty brings to mind the healing of body, mind, and spirit after someone has experienced abuse or trauma.
So, does beauty work as a moral value? Can we use it as a guiding principle in determining right and wrong, good and bad? Using this understanding of beauty, would it now make sense to critique and measure our words and actions by the question: “is it beautiful or is it ugly?”
I believe the answer is yes, beauty does work as a moral value. Is it beautiful or ugly? Is it creative or destructive? Is it helpful or hindering? Is it life-giving? Does it bring us to a greater sense of depth and grace? Does it feed souls? Does it help us to become more whole? I don’t think this has to do with easy or not. A path to healing can be very difficult, and actually downright painful and ugly sometimes, but often going through it is necessary to experience greater wholeness. That makes the process beautiful.
JoAnn Dodgson wrote, “Beauty is a celebration of is-ness.” It is a celebration of being-ness in that we experience it in the now. In the moment it occurs and we are aware of it, our souls are fed.
Have you ever said to someone, “What a beautiful day it is!” Only to have them respond, “Maybe, but we’ve gotten too much rain, and it’s supposed to rain again tomorrow.” They weren’t able to enjoy the actual presence of beauty because their mind was already negative about the next day. How much beauty do we miss because we neglect to be present to the moment, to nature, to faces and smiles, music and art, and actions of beauty around us?
We have much to learn from a spirituality of beauty.
Let me leave you with a closing quote by Kahlil Gibran: “Kneel only to truth, follow only beauty, and obey only love.”
Love & Light!