I’ve been thinking today about beauty. What is it that makes us love beauty so much? Beautiful music, beautiful people, beautiful artwork, beautiful landscape…it all makes something inside of us feel a sense of joy or delight or even pain or bitterness or anger. It always evokes some kind of emotion.
Earlier today, I was thinking of music. Specifically, I was taken back a few years to a particular music class in college. Dr. Rose, the most widely-enjoyed music professor at Vanderbilt, taught a class entitled “Music, Art, and Ideas.” It was truly a fascinating class, one of my first interdisciplinary classes in college.
True to my 20-year-old nature, I arrogantly told Dr. Rose one day that I didn’t see the purpose of dissecting the music. I felt that it made it a science instead of an art, something sacrilegious and distasteful instead of something simply beautiful. With utmost patience, Dr. Rose explained that it’s not until we have a true knowledge of the music by understanding all its parts that we can have a true appreciation for its beauty.
Tonight, my roommate and I watched the Directors’ Commentary Edition of The Devil Wears Prada. Not being interested much in fashion myself, it was a fascinating look at what it is that the world describes as beautiful. The directors talked of jewelry that came to the set with its own guards, purses that cost $70,000 – $100,000, and make-up that changed with every outfit.
Undoubtedly, Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway looked stunning in their expensively-tailored clothing and perfect make-up. Yet the point of the story is that Anne’s character (I like to think I’m on a first-name basis with Anne; I like her :)) has to learn that life is not about the clothing she wears or the way she looks so much as it is about becoming a woman of integrity. It’s about going into the deeper parts beyond what’s just on the surface to find beauty – and reflecting that in her outward appearance rather than allowing her outward appearance to define her.
This afternoon, I was studying at Starbucks for a class I’m taking this summer on interpreting the Bible. I was again tempted to think that the Bible is very beautiful if you simply read it without having to go through the strenuous exercise of actually breaking it down, studying the historical and literary context and all that. Like music, like beautiful women, it’s true that the Bible is almost heart-breakingly beautiful, even in just a cursory reading. But also like music (and not always like beautiful people), when we delve into it more deeply, we find that even the surface beauty becomes breathtaking.
I’m not saying that there’s a “hidden” message in the Bible, or that you have to be “initiated” as a scholar to understand what it is “really” saying. No, no, and a hundred times no! Instead, for any who will take just a bit of time to meditate on its truths (not like the New Agers would encourage, not an emptying of the mind, but rather a filling of the mind – simply thinking about and studying the Scripture and asking the Holy Spirit to give you insight)… for any who will give the extra effort, time, and space for God to speak, the intricacies of how beautifully woven together the Word of God is will strike your heart at an ever deeper level.
For example, yesterday I was reading Psalm 32. Here’s an example of the depth of the beauty of the Scripture:
Blessed is he
whose transgressions are forgiven
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man
whose sin the Lord does not count against him…
My immediate thought when I read this was: “In Christ, we are forgiven! Our sins are covered/clothed with the righteousness of Christ! The Lord no longer counts our sin against us!” Paul actually quotes this part of this Psalm in Romans 4, where he not only talks about how we are forgiven in Christ, but also teaches that this forgiveness is not something that we earned but is a beautiful free gift apart from our own works.
I didn’t know Romans quoted Psalm 32 until I biblegatewayed “forgiven” in the New Testament (biblegateway.com is my preferred Bible search engine). Just a little digging, and I found more treasure. And I could go on to more passages in both the Old and New Testaments that give greater richness and depth to this one little verse-and-a-half. Right, that’s only a verse and a half! The rest of the Psalm is just as amazing as the beginning of it!
The same rules also apply to our own outward beauty. Made in the image of God, each one of us has a unique beauty outwardly. But we all know those people, the ones with the sparkle in their eyes, the friends we think are incredibly beautiful, even though someone who doesn’t know them might disagree. They may not be the “life of the party” in the traditional sense, or they might be just that person. But we love to be around them.
In a world of Devil Wears Prada, whether that be the city of Atlanta or the college campuses around the world, do we cultivate the peaceful beauty of the inner life? The kind that attracts others?
It doesn’t come all at once. It’s a process, and a long one at that. It’s a process that actually makes older women more beautiful than younger women, and those who have suffered while walking with God more lovely than those who have lived an easy life. But it’s a beauty we can cultivate over the course of our lives, simply by walking with God through the power of the Holy Spirit. True beauty, indeed. How I long for it. Praise God for His work in our lives!
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