This is Beauty

“You know when sometimes you meet someone so beautiful and then you actually talk to them and five minutes later they're as dull as a brick? Then there's other people, when you meet them you think, "Not bad. They're okay." And then you get to know them and... and their face just sort of becomes them. Like their personality's written all over it. And they just turn into something so beautiful.”

            —Amy, Dr. Who “The Girl Who Waited”

Most of us can relate to this. Most of us have also met people who we found ourselves initially attracted to, and as we got to know them became disillusioned. It is a disappointing experience, especially as a Christian knowing that there could be so much more to that person if they would take the time to cultivate it. It is hard knowing there is a beauty of personality hidden in that beautiful body, that is burrowing deeper as they rely on looks or other superficial attractions to try and build relationships.

Most of us, I hope, can relate to the opposite experience as well. Most of us have met someone who didn’t do much to catch our attention, until we have a conversation or other authentic encounter of them. Not only is their personality attractive, but when they let it shine, it transforms the aesthetic experience we have in looking at them.

This experience can happen, on different levels, with anyone who is willing to be even a little bit vulnerable, who knows who they are and what they are about. These people can be found in all areas of life, but I have found the most complete experiences of this seem to come when I am with the people who are closest to Christ. These are the people who have allowed Him to make them the most themselves, they are the people who have put diligent work into understanding themselves and the world around them, and they are the people who, knowing who they are before God, don’t feel a strong need to attract attention.

An encounter with the beauty of this sort of person is not simply one of aesthetics. In this experience you are seeing something in front of you, which is very human, is very attractive, and is drawing you in. You are also encountering something scary. These people call on us to live more focused lives, they call on us to come to understand who we are before God, and they call on us to critically evaluate our own lives. In their simultaneous strength and vulnerability, they show us the mercy and justice of God. They show us beauty itself, and if we let it touch our hearts, it is uncomfortable.

These people do not only participate in the beautiful. These people participate in the sublime, in that metaphysical, magnetic beauty that can’t help but remind us of our finitude, simultaneously intriguing and terrifying. We desire to be around them, and can’t help but think of ourselves differently when we are. They shake us, and still give us reason to trust them.

As Christians, we believe all people are made in the image of God, and that they therefore must be beautiful. It’s no secret that modern standards and definitions of beauty are totally twisted, but that doesn’t mean looks don’t matter. Our physicality is intimately tied with who God created us to be. When we spend so much time worrying about a certain aesthetic or reputation, rather than letting God reveal us to ourselves in Silence (my favorite professor once said knowledge of self and of the world requires lots of reading, writing, silence, and solitude), our looks and our selves become disjointed, and we are dissatisfied. Our beauty must fight with our ideas of beauty, and is dulled. When we take the time, however, slowly we are comfortable shedding our defenses and our ideas, and the features God designed to radiate our individual beauty are capable of doing so.  

 

As Christians, as the Salt of the Earth, we are called to be that jarring but pleasurable experience of the sublime, to draw people into something more real than what they know. But we cannot do this if we are acting the part, if we are not putting in the time and effort to become our purest selves. The more people I meet, the more I am convinced that it is not the fittest, tannest, most stylish, or well made up people who are the most beautiful. It is the people who have taken the time to discover themselves, it is the people who read, and who take the time to think about what they are reading, to write or create to understand their encounters with the world around them, and of course it is the people who pray, who are the most beautiful.