For the Beauty

Psalm 23:2-3

Proverbs 12:6-12 ceb


Why do people go to art galleries to stare at paintings? Why do they spend huge amounts of money traveling to national parks to wander around and just look? Why do we love to watch nature programs on TV?  Why do the people of this town plaster building walls with murals?

Why do people crowd into the Stampede saloon on a Friday night to listen to music? Because we have a need for beauty in our lives. And we find this beauty in art and nature and in one another. Each of you has a way to connect with beauty, one that brings peace, joy, and a sense of wonder. Where do you find beauty? What is it you experience?

        From a faith point of view, we understand beauty through God. We glimpse his creation and are humbled by his magnificence. Scripture gives us a glimpse.

Psalm 104:1-35 

Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire. He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved. ...

David writes about God’s beauty as a person who lived in natural surroundings.

Many of us connect with God through natural beauty. My dad was such a person. We never went to church as a family; we hunted on Sundays. When I became a Christian, I asked him one day if he believed in God. His response was, “The closest I come is when I am out in the woods or walking along an ocean shore. I feel like that is God.” His closest connection to the creator came through nature. He would be on a mountaintop looking out at the vastness and be overwhelmed by something greater than himself.

It was a mysterious experience that he never tried to figure out. He connected with that force through hunting, fishing or just walking. But it was an important part of his life. It renewed him, gave him strength to go on working in high-pressure situations.

We get this and that is part of the reason people choose to live here and in other places in the west. That’s why real estate prices for homes with mountain views run higher than those that don’t have them. People want to look out at something beautiful. It renews them.

We have friends who moved to Denver from Tulsa. They bought a house that looked out over Stanley Lake and to the Rocky Mountains. They were thrilled to get it because of the view. It brings them great joy to sit and look out at natural beauty.

A Chicago street artist named Theaster Gates gave a Ted talk on reviving inner city neighborhoods. Gates asked a basic question of his audience, “What are the basic things you need every day?” Your thoughts are probably – [let them answer] food, shelter, basics, health these are common answers. Then Gates suggested that we add another item to that list. Beauty.

Gates lives in a rough neighborhood in Chicago with run down buildings, a world of concrete and steel. He observed that when people are confined to spaces where there is no beauty, they close up. They are more fearful. They are more unhappy. This is an environment of poverty, of ghettos, of slums: Concrete and steel and the bad odor that goes with inner city living. There is little in the way of beauty.

Gates set out to bring beauty to this world, through graffiti, through painting, through art because beauty provides something necessary in their lives. He argues that humans thirst for beauty and when they have beauty in their daily lives, they are able to find contentment, joy, and happiness. It changes how we interact with places and people.

There is something to his point. We understand what he is talking about. We need beauty in our lives. We associate beauty with certain experiences and places as you have mentioned.

Gates suggests that experiencing beauty first has to do with a state of mind and how we look at the world. In other words, we project beauty out onto the world from the inside. We agree that what we are viewing is beautiful, but it is our inner construction of beauty that actually gives us the warm, awesome experience, not the mountains themselves. In other words, the beauty is inside of us and what we see out here is a reflection of what’s going on the inside.

God gives us the ability to identify beauty as his creation. As a way to recognize God in the world in the same way David recognizes God when he wrote his psalms.

When I get on my motorcycle and head up into the mountains, I feel like I am riding into a painting that is ever changing, and moving around me. I feel a deep connection with beauty, God’s beauty. It is a feeling that fills my senses and awareness that I would sometimes like to disappear into.

One day when Claire and I were driving through the mountains of Idaho, we were looking at the blond, grassy hillside that was so familiar from my childhood. And I once again entered into that ecstasy of beauty.

And as I felt it, I wished I could have that feeling with me always, and then God spoke to me and said I can. I can because the source of what I was experiencing was inside of me, not in what I was looking at.

It was a powerful realization for me to know that the beauty I was looking at came from inside of me and it could be there any time I felt a need to call it up. I found that to be very calming, very hopeful because I didn’t have to go to the natural location to have the experience. It was right here inside of me.

When David wrote about God’s beauty in Psalms, he was calling up his experience, bringing it back into his consciousness in poetry and music. People love the Psalms because if this, they draw on a part of God we do not experience in other areas of the Bible. We do find this poetic exchange in other areas, such as Job and in Proverbs as well.

And when we come to those places it’s like we shift into a different mode of experiencing faith. We enter into the beautiful. We see poetic form in the New Testament as well, an example is the Magnificat. These scriptures remind us of something very important – that God is an artist! He created. He imagined! God played with color and light. God modeled form and mass. God was artistic. God is the original artist. God has an imagination beyond what we can imagine.

Our problem is that we spend too little time experiencing and creating art. The world presses in on us and tells us our value is found only in what we produce, our work, commerce, things we can measure. We get caught up in daily life and become robots, measuring everything in terms of productivity.  We forget about what it means to be in the moment, enjoying beauty.

In the verses from Psalm 23:2-3, we are given a powerful way to enter the beautiful.  He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.”

In this reading we are led into the beautiful and it brings us stillness, peace, calm, renewal and hope.

God gives us beauty because God understands our need for the exalted in this world. God understands that we need inspiration that is fed through art and the arts. We need the murals that appear around us as we drive through town. We need the colorful flowers that imprint our hearts with joy. We need beauty.

This week stop and think about the importance of beauty in your life. Stop and think about where you find it. Stop and think about the images and sounds you consume and whether or not they present beauty.

The market most often presents us with a form of commercial beauty, a form of beauty that is exploitive. It plays to the senses and their appetites. When you recognize those messages that do not bring beauty into your life but rather ghettoize your soul, consider not consuming them any more.

Choose to return to that true beauty that is inside and outside of you. Do something creative. Encourage others to pursue the beautiful.

Finally, when you looked in the mirror in the morning, see more than wrinkles. See more than flaws. See more than a retired person. See more than the person you have defined yourself to be. See your beauty and what makes you that way. See something beautiful.