The Absurdity of Beauty -

This evening an unmistakeable scent wafted across the back deck.   A closer inspection revealed that Judy’s lavender lilacs are coming into full bloom.  And just an hour or two earlier the sun was lying low in the sky and from the front porch a fresh hatch of insects were criss-crossing through the amber glow of the evening.

The fragrance of spring flowers and the golden incandescence of late afternoon sun, the laughter of children, a carpet of new trillium on the walking path, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, the taste of fresh strawberries, the subtle brilliance of Vermeer’s ‘The Lacemaker’, or even the artful guitar riff of Mark Knopfler…all aesthetically appealing, and all recognized as intrinsically beautiful.  The ponderous question is - Why?  In a purely naturalistic universe beauty is absurd.  Splendor serves no purpose.  Loveliness has no utilitarian value.  Magnificence equates to worthlessness.   In a world where stark and hardscrabble survival rule the day beauty is an unnecessary and unwanted luxury, and yet we see it all around us.  Why beauty?

Part of our problem is that we are far more than brute beasts.  The beautiful Chesapeake Bay Retriever by my side may enjoy a good steak bone, but I’ve yet to see her gaze transfixed by the orange and purple hues of a spring sunset.  We recognize splendor when we see or hear it.  We understand the contrast between the beautiful and the ugly.  We know when a musical piece is played badly or when cheap jack’s art is being pawned as the profound. 

Could it be that the beauty we behold is both reflective and doxological?  Could it be that beauty is intended to reveal something far more sublime and by doing so, beauty is to evoke worship?  Could it be that the beauty we see is pointing to something far more glorious? 

Consider the words of Israel’s ancient poet-king,

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

Could it be that all things beautiful are not the alchemy of a primordial crapshoot, but rather a megaphone loudly calling to us to look beyond?  After all, to declare is to announce with a loud voice.  In the universe around us a proclamation is being made and perhaps it’s time to listen to its insistent quasi-subtleties. 

While we lean forward in hopes of hearing this proclamation perhaps it’s time to take a deep breath as we catch a fresh scent of the lilacs.  Perhaps beauty is not so absurd after all.


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