In Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1868 novel, ‘The Idiot’, one character asks another, “Is it true that you once said, ‘Beauty will save the world’?” The question is often misquoted as a statement, an affirmative – but I think it’s worth considering as a question.
We are surrounded by beauty – the peaks of Mt. Hood and Washington and Jefferson that rise up in the distance, the gigantic blooms in our neighbors’ yards, the waterfalls within an easy drive from here. And we can sometimes create beauty, too, when we take brush to canvas, pen to paper, hand to instrument, tool to raw material. I don’t think it would be overstepping to say beauty is also found when we raise our voices, in songs that praise the good or in shouts that protest the unjust. Or when we put our minds together, or our hands together, to bring something in to being that didn’t before exist.
But what does all that beauty do? What is it for?
I’d be among the first to argue that beauty need not have a function – but I am intrigued by the proposition that it might do everything… that it might, somehow, save the world.
Is it possible that beauty is transformative?
That it nourishes and protects, heals and sustains?
That it has a gentleness and a force unto itself?
French philosopher Simone Weil wrote, “In all that awakens within us the pure and authentic sentiment of beauty, there is, truly, the presence of God. There is a kind of incarnation of God in the world, of which beauty is the sign.”
We’ll spend some of this summer considering that. I’d invite you to immerse yourself in beauty in the coming weeks, and to note what that immersion awakens in you. And then let’s talk together about what happens when we dwell in beauty.