Looking for Beauty

Looking for Beauty

Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

Beauty, though desirable, is really unnecessary. It’s more like fluff on a solid substance: nice to behold, but not required. Beauty can be dismissed without any damage resulting, or any sense of loss or incompleteness. Life can be lived without an experience of the beautiful. There may be a sense of loss but no irreparable loss.

Beauty is more frequently thought of as a feminine asset than a masculine one. Strength is usually considered a masculine attribute rather than a feminine one. While the feminine form found frequent expression in ancient Greek sculpture, it was to exemplify beauty, while the masculine gained artistic expression for its display of strength. While beauty is appreciated, strength is irreplaceable.

What might be the downside of a loss of beauty? Can life go on without it?

Drabness might well express an experience lacking any beauty. Or might ugliness be the better way to express this? In either case, what would living a life described as ugly or drab be like? In either case, what would life be like if it provided nothing but the ugly and the drab? Could life go on in such circumstances?

Thinkers in the ancient world were not slow in recognizing it and assigning merit and significance to the beautiful. In fact, they frequently aligned it with such attributes as goodness and truthfulness and unity or oneness: the perfect is a combination of what is true, good, one or wholeness, and beauty. Despite this, beauty seldom gains the acclaim and the recognition that the others receive. Why is this?

The terms “ugly” and “drab” were used above to draw attention to the absence of beauty in life. To give body to these descriptions, we might think of them in terms of a prison cell. We readily acknowledge a jail cell as lacking any vestige of the beautiful. Is this because ugliness is the most suitable way of enhancing the punishment that we associate with imprisonment? Prison seems to be synonymous with the drab and the ugly.

The mass housing ventures erected in our urban centers, not too many decades ago, for the poor and impoverished often gave off strong indications of much the same thing: the ugly and the drab. That is why city governments in recent times have leveled them to the ground, replacing them with more livable arrangements.

There is an interplay between the lack of beauty and the absence of goodness (or the presence of evil).

Evil, once recognized for what it is, clearly emerges as something ugly and distorted. Perhaps that is why our prisons were designed to be ugly, because they housed those who were criminals, that is, those who engaged in evil. And that is undoubtedly why civic minded persons also agitated to level mass housing for the poor, because it gave off the message that poverty and evil were aligned.

And so we come to God. God is the epitome of both strength and beauty. We don’t differentiate between a God of Beauty and a God of Strength. They are aligned within the God we have come to know, love and worship. In fact, He is the summation of all that is true, good, beautiful and One (or unified), even while, in our Christian tradition, we profess Him as a Trinitarian God. We can say that of no one else, or nothing else.

But this recognition sends us on a search to discover what, other than God, might best encapsulate or house what we acknowledge as the epitome of beauty. Would it be something in mother nature: the sea, a mountain, a valley, a flower or garden? Would it be the heavens: a sunrise or sunset, a waning moon, a multitude of stars? Would it be a form of bird life, or a creature of the sea, or a land animal?

Or might it be a product of our human genius: something that we see, or something that we hear: a painting, a sculpture, a building? A symphony, a motet, a ballet? A play, a poem, a novel?

Whatever we call beautiful is something that enjoys symmetry, proportion, color, balance, shape. It borders on what emerged from the hand of God on the sixth day of creation: the garden of Eden, which we were able to enjoy for so short a period of time. Our hope is to enjoy it again—in the future.


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