Saved by Beauty?

The world will be saved by…

…development, clean water, food distribution, peace negotiations, politics, economics, environmental responsibility, good works, faith, grace, hope, love, evangelism…

Depending on your worldview, there are a plethora of words that could finish that sentence. Few, however, would complete it with the word “Beauty.” In fact some of you may decisively disagree with the quote to that effect coined by one of Dostoyevsky’s characters in his novel The Idiot; the quote we have unabashedly chosen to emblazon our home page: The world will be saved by beauty. 

But let us remember that “the beautiful” is not merely “the pretty;” that beauty is something weighty and profound, something little and at the same time encompassing, something real and yet intangible, something we often misunderstand and desperately need.

“Beauty” is all the elements in our existence that make life worth living, the things that elevate our experience of this life from merely existing to being fully alive.

——

A short story

Once upon a time, not long ago and not far away there was a land that was filled with great beauty.

But the people of this land had been careless and over time their carelessness created a monster. It was mostly unintentional. No one wants to create a monster. But a harsh word had turned into a lashing tongue, an act of violence formed a sharp claw, a turn of indifference became a scaly hide, over-consumption shaped its massive belly, greed enlarged its grasping talons, anger kindled a fire in its throat and hatred unleashed this fire on anyone who dared to come too near. And so slowly, over time, and unintentionally, the monster was formed by the carelessness of the people.

By the time they realized what they had done, it was too late. The monster was too powerful. It wreaked unfathomable devastation, marring the land and enslaving the people in their fear. Those who could afford to, moved to places that didn’t yet bear the telltale scars of the monster’s reach, leaving the poor to fight amongst themselves over the more dangerous uninhabitable regions. They distrusted each other and exploited each other, and they all fueled the monsters’ voracious appetite with their fear and selfishness, their violence, their greed, their despair.monster

The monster had been among them for so long that they forgot how it had been created, or that a life without the monster had ever existed. Some people bargained with the monster for their own gain, some hated it but felt powerless to fight it, some were far enough away to put the monster out of their minds. For all, this was simply the way things were.

Then one day, when the monster had taken control of most of the land and all of the people, a stranger appeared. In all of their land and all of their memories, there had never been a stranger like this among them. They were eager to see what they could get from this outlier but the stranger simply presented them with a message: Another world is possible.

Some laughed and walked away, others stayed and jeered, and a single voice among the crowd rang out with joy, “does that mean you have come to slay the dragon?” Cheers erupted. Of course! This stranger must be a dragon slayer! “No,” said the stranger, “I do not come to slay the dragon, I come to tell you that another world is possible.” His voice, barely above a whisper, was full of passion and power. The crowd scoffed, “not a dragon slayer. Only a soothsayer.”

When the crowd had dwindled to a few stragglers compelled to stay by the hope that another world could indeed be possible, the stranger smiled. “You, my friends,” he said, “are the ones who will slay the dragon.” The protests were loud even among so small a group, “We?!” “We are not strong enough!” “We don’t know how to fight!”  “We have no weapons.”

“But you have your choices” replied the stranger. “Add to the beauty.”

They were dumfounded. “Add to the beauty?!”

“Yes,” was the calm reply. “Find what is beautiful in this world, and add to that beauty and the monster will starve. Generosity can cut off its talons, simplicity can decrease its size, kindness can quench its fire and gentleness can soften its rage. Forgiveness, peace, hope, and love – these are all ways of undoing the power of the monster.”

“You do not know OUR monster,”  they protested, “Perhaps in your land the monsters are not so great. Our monster is too big, too complex, our little choices will not even be like a touch of a fly on it’s great hide. Our monster reigns.”

“No” said the stranger, “Your monster is real and very ferocious. But it does not reign. Another world is possible because there is a King who is greater – much greater – than the monster. To be a part of that Kingdom means living out a different story, a better story. You do not defeat the monster on its own terms – with weapons and violence – you defeat the monster by living out the better story. By changing the rules. By adding to the beauty instead of the destruction.

——–

We believe that another world is possible because a stranger once came to our land and told us and showed us and gave his life to open our eyes to its existence. We believe that his is the way of Beauty. We also believe we have the responsibility and privilege to participate in the making of this new world. There is so much that we can do in our daily lives to contribute to the beauty in our world. Not only big things like political and social and environmental justice, but a kind word, an act of generosity, a choice to forgive, even a little backyard garden; these all tip the scales toward beauty. And the world will be saved by beauty.

photo credit: Mohammed Alnaser via photopin cc

 

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