On Beauty Being Dangerous
This post was originally published on the Integrity Blog.
Last week, a fourth grade student of mine gazed at the picture on the screen of Mount Fuji. In the midst of the geology lesson, the image of behemothic, majestic volcano laced with snow had been received with a murmur of wonder across the classroom. This particular, soft-spoken girl whispered to herself, “Why are the most beautiful things always the most dangerous?”
I stopped and thought, well damn, what an interesting, poignant thought.
I can think of many things that are not dangerous that I encounter every day. Food and cups and clothes and notebooks and cars and showers are not dangerous, they are just plain things that I use all the time and I don’t think twice about them. Plain old things make up life. They aren’t dangerous and they aren’t beautiful, really.
What are the truly beautiful things in my life? Where are they?
Like any good, philosophically minded graduate from a small private school, I can tell you that we all seek beauty and ache for it. We all realize that the beautiful realities and things we encounter fall short of truly satisfying us because they offer us only glimpses, windows, to the true beauty we seek which exists in God, in pure form. I can probably even write a decent paper on why recognizing true, authentic beauty is important and how it can fundamentally change our lives by its power.
But, does beauty, in fact fundamentally change our lives by its power?
Meh, I think we don’t let it.
If we’re honest with ourselves, I think we can admit that we tend to shy away from things that require something from us. We want to consume things easily and quickly because we’re always in a rush, checking another box off our list, on to the next task, whatever. We’re not very good at sitting still and even worse at decidedly, intentionally putting forth real effort when we probably should. It’s easy to hit the snooze button five times and easy to browse your phone for forty minutes.
It takes freaking grit to pick up a classical text, to plan out and meticulously paint a good work of art, to stay attentive in prayer, to align ourselves with what is truly beautiful because it all takes supreme effort and we really suck at disciplining ourselves to experience it.
Things that are radically, deeply, and truly beautiful are dangerous because they are powerful and they have the ability to essentially stir up a flame in us that sparks the divine, but that’s something we don’t want most of the time because we like to be comfortable more than we like to be ablaze.
It’s easy to consume. But it’s terrifying to be consumed by powerful things that burn away your mediocrity and force you to face reality instead of settling beneath it.
I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit straight up sent a stream of solid, divine gold into the mind of C.S. Lewis. “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses
Are we cool with making mud pies? Are we okay with our laziness and ease and routine and ridiculous, mind-numbing TV shows when real beauty is there for the taking, there for the discovery, there for the changing?
Maybe this “holiday at sea” isn’t all smooth sailing. Maybe it means casting our nets out into the deep for a catch. Maybe it means venturing beyond the freaking shore and away from that stupid port where we keep the ship of our soul tied. Maybe it means learning how to swim and maybe it means sweat and tears and effort and danger.
Maybe beautiful things like marriage, children, dreams, goals, art, music, words, mountains, oceans and prayer are dangerous because they pose a threat to our comfort.
Maybe beautiful things are treacherous in the best way possible because they outshine and burn our dullness. Beauty and danger give us words like, run, go, see, swim, and rise.
Beauty isn’t safe or tame, but I don't really want to be those things anyway. I’d rather my soul be a volcano erupting with flame or a raging ocean.
“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” -Marcus Aurelius