Thursday, August 10, 2006


On Beauty and Strength

Some say that women possess an essential beauty to the exclusion of men who possess an essential strength: man is best realized in dynamic action – expressing strength; woman is properly placed when at rest – expressing beauty. I cannot say where strength becomes beauty or beauty becomes strength in the oft cited feminine-masculine binary. But I know my wife has a strong will which I think enables her to have a beautiful spirit. Maybe what we are trying to express as humans is not either strength or beauty but rather an essential integrity, (Integrity being in the highest sense the right or proper, the whole, combination of flavors, components, in such a way that each part enhances a whole and in turn each part.), an essential Truth. Maybe when we express this Way to Life in incarnate human consciousness and aesthetics we are truly alive.

The idea that strength is found in movement and beauty in rest, seems to me to be a furthering of a false dichotomy. That which is beautiful is at times at rest, in a state of reflection: a rock garden, a silent forest, the moon rising without moving over a sleeping city, a woman waiting in bed; but it is just as often a liquid, dynamic movement: a jellyfish swirling like a ballerina, or a ballerina twirling like a jelly fish, a whale breeching the surface, the movement of a bird in flight, riding a snowboard through trees on fresh powder – on top of the world (actually breaking all things down to quantum mechanics all things are moving and interacting in waves, nothing is static – while at the same time all things are static as particular particles).

In the same way as complementarity works in physics, I see strength and beauty as symbiotic – one completes the other and together they give Life integrity. Although it may be possible for both strength and beauty to exist in isolation, I think they are most Life-giving when they are united. Art, aesthetics, are most important when it increases consciousness – it makes one think or love. Often it is a uniting of logic with illogic (depending on your perspective) which allows us to re-imagine that which we previously thought of as static or dynamic.

Some say “nature is not primarily functional” rather it is primarily beautiful. It follows that mother nature or natural mothers (those who breathe for us and give us natural life while we are still in the womb) are primarily beautiful: women are not primarily functional. On the first point I disagree (and the second produces an unnecessary duality), thinking in the long term the nature we have today is a necessary function of life in the past – particularly among conscious things. That which survives is that which is fit to adapt to the constantly changing and interacting environment in which it is found. It is beautiful yes, but it is beautiful as a process of creation rather than as a static creation. And who is to say beauty itself is not a necessary function of Life? Does it not serve the function of making us think; of making us aware of the sublime?

Some say, “Beauty flows from the heart that is alive. We have known women you might describe as ‘frumpy,’ who seem to care nothing for their appearance. We have seen them become women who posses great beauty. We have watched it grow in them as they discovered that they were deeply loved.” What sort of shallow analysis is this? “Frumpy” women cannot be beautiful in who they are – they need to abandon their frumpy ways and achieve some sort of “I’ve been loved, I’m a movie star” status to qualify? One of the most beauty-demonstrating women I have ever seen is a Christian missionary from South Africa who lived in Tibet. She dressed and lived and smelled as though she was a Buddhist nun – she had a few hairs sprouting from her chin. Yet she exhibited an aura of being I had never seen before. I knew she was beautiful before we even spoke. I sensed it. I want to posses the same sort of confidence, strength and grace – like that which I see in the bright eyes of Thomas Merton. Beauty flows from being comfortable and content with who we are – from knowing who we are. Beauty cannot be contained by aesthetics alone – it must flow from a greater Spirit.

WORK CITED: Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge, Nelson Books, 2005


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