Disappointment and Beauty

I have continued to reflect on disappointment and how the Holy Tradition addresses it — redeems it. In so doing, I decided to step back and look at it from a distance, so to speak. As I did so, I was struck by the elegance of it. In trinity rosefact, the intricate beauty of it. That, in turn, reminded me that one of the facets of the Holy Tradition’s transformative power is beauty.

The Christian faith in its operation — both conceptually and practically — is beautiful both physically and spiritually. The physical beauty of the Holy Tradition is not extra. It is essential. It is not just what we do, or why we do, but how we do that is important.

But the Holy Tradition is not just a beautiful thing to behold or investigate. IT IS beautiful. IT IS beauty itself. It is Christ, who is beautiful. Beauty is essential to life. Without beauty we die. Beauty is restorative.  Beauty heals the brokenness of the universe and the human situation by embracing it and incorporating it into the narrative of salvation in all its perfect beauty. How we respond to disappointment can be ugly or beautiful. The ugly response deepens the disappointment. The beautiful response — the Christ response — turns the agenda of disappointment into an chapter in a larger victory.

So, one of the ways in which the Holy Tradition addresses disappointment, I must always remember, is to embrace it with beauty. Not sentimentalism I must hasten to add. Real beauty. The distinction is crucial. One is cheap and patronizing. The other is strong and overcomes. It is, to use an analogy, the difference between happiness and joy. One is small and temporary — happiness. Joy, in contrast, is expansive and lasting. Beauty envelopes us and breaths the breath of the life of God into us.

Before the beautiful—no, not really before but within the beautiful—the whole person quivers. He not only “finds” the beautiful moving; rather, he experiences himself as being moved and possessed by it. The more complete this experience is, the less does a person seek and enjoy only the delight that comes through the senses or even through any act of his own; the less also does he reflect on his own acts and states. Such a person has been taken up wholesale into the reality of the beautiful and is now fully subordinate to it, determined by it, animated by it. (The Glory of the Lord, Volume 1, Hans Urs von Balthasar)

Bigger than disappointment, or better yet, deeper, is the hunger/yearning for beauty. That is why disappointment is disappointment. It itself, is penultimate by its own confession. The fact that we can call it that admits to something deeper and more that we desire to prevail. We stretch out with our souls and our bodies for this fulfillment to set our disappointment in perspective (not to somehow say it is OK as if disappointment belongs), embrace it and make it part of something victorious by transforming it. C.S. Lewis speaks of the yearning in his essay, The Weight of Glory, that has been the subject of this blog on other occasions.

We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words–to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves–that, though we cannot, yet these projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty grace, and power of which Nature is the image. That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that “beauty born of murmuring sound” will pass into a human face; but it won’t. Or not yet. For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch. For you must not think that I am putting forward any heathen fancy of being absorbed into Nature. Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. Nature is only the image, the symbol; but it is the symbol Scripture invites me to use. We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendour which she fitfully reflects.

Fr. Thomas


One thought on “Disappointment and Beauty

  1. Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?
    Luke 12:27-28

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