Last weekend Gene and I were up in Idyllwild at Hilltop, a renewal center God has given us and we were serving a church elder board. We knew that snow was predicted and we warned everyone to drive up early but Friday night four of the men came up late. At 11 pm, after it had snowed for a couple of hours, they were unable to get up the last hill. They struggled getting their chains on, and while working to get the chains on, left the front car door of their car open which was then mangled by a tree when the car slipped backwards. At that point they called to ask for help. Their souls and ours were anything but beautiful, they were full of turmoil and angst, but nothing prepared us for the change in our souls the next morning when we awoke. Two feet of fresh fallen snow and it was still coming down. We were able to see God in all of His magnificence as we opened our eyes to his beauty in the very thing that had caused us angst. A true picture of God in his gentle, silent, purity creating a picture of his workmanship in our souls. What a contrast to the night before.
We study beauty in spiritual formation, partially because to be spiritually formed means to become God’s work of art:
Ephesians 2:10 “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works!” He is creating in us a beautiful soul.
I Chronicles 16:29 says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the Lord in the beauty of his holiness.”
What brings God glory is a beautiful soul so it is imperative that we understand what makes a beautiful soul.
Questions that come to mind are:
What is beauty?
What is a soul?
How do the two come together to form a beautiful soul.
Our own John Mark Reynolds (Torrey Institute) once said: “ Getting reality wrong can be dangerous”. When I found a lump in my breast – a part of me wanted to dismiss it like it wasn’t real and therefore wasn’t a big deal – but that would have damaged the good work God was going to do in my soul thru the journey of breast cancer. It is a big deal when we break God’s laws in not heeding His call to find His beauty in all things. The moral choices we make create a difference in our soul. Morality is real and so moral mistakes damage my soul.
If beauty is real, then mistakes about beauty would be also very serious. If we think Miss America who walks the boardwalk and sets the standard for American women with her firm body, perfect hair, and sexy walk is beautiful and Mother Teressa whose face is thin and pale with no makeup, owns nothing and owes nothing is not beautiful, then my desires in beauty may be damaging my soul. Or if my favorite music, art, and entertainment are ugly, then my entertainment may be hurting my soul.
You may ask, “Why or how can making a mistake about beauty, damage my soul?
To help you understand the soul, let me tell you a story of when I was a little girl in Michigan where around Thanksgiving time the snow would begin to fall for the winter season. As little kids, I had two sisters and a brother, we would watch the first snowfall waiting excitedly for enough to accumulate for us to go out and make a snowman so we could win the neighborhood contest of building the snowman that would last the longest into the winter.
If we built it too soon, we would roll the snowballs to make the snowman and it would inevitable gather up dead leaves, sticks, dirt and the stuff leftover from the Fall into the snowman.
- Then when the snow in our yard was used up, we would have to go to the neighbor’s yard to gather the white snow without all the debris and patch up the unacceptable and dirty parts of the snowman to make him white.
- The Problem: When the sun came out, the snowman would have a crisis. He would begin to melt and chunks would fall off where the debris was….soon it was an unrecognizable crumbly mess and we would lose the neighborhood contest.
- Over the years we learned:
- Wait longer for when more snow to fall so the debris from the Fall wouldn’t get in the snowman
- We learned that if the snowman was clean with no debris, when the sun came out, instead of melting it and making it fall apart, the sun would melt it during the day and it would turn the top layer into ice during the night when the temperature dropped – the crisis of the sun became an advantage for a longer life for the snowman – sometimes lasting the whole winter.
Our souls are just like a snowman
They are like a vacuum but have no on/off switch. They pick up whatever is put in all the five areas of our life – physical, emotional, relational, cognitive, and moral. What is picked up either damages or beautifies our soul.
So how do we know whether something is going to beautify or do damage to our soul?
There are two levels of beauty.
Comeliness or what we see as attractive on the sensory level is the most frequently envisioned meaning of beauty – an attractive, sensory delight like a beautiful woman or a lovely rose.
The second level of beauty is spiritual, as transcending. To experience this secondary level of beauty is to have all the five areas of our soul (physical, emotional, relational, moral, and cognitive connected to the spiritual. Spiritual formation often thru the facilitation of a spiritual director is looking for the beautiful work of God in all circumstances of our life no matter how painful or ugly they may seem in the moment.
This transcendent or deeper beauty loosens our attachment to our own desires and ideals (our false self), and as this happens, we are freed, at least for a moment, from the prison of our selfish view – because we are faced with the glory of creation and God’s view of Reality and we have in that moment a beautiful soul.
Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Last Saturday morning I laid in my comfortable warm bed looking out at a perfect picture of who God is and how it reminded me of what makes a beautiful soul. The brilliant, quiet, silent, elegant, pure, simple, lovely, praiseworthy, gentle work of the Master creating a picture of himself and His merciful work in me removing the ugly and replacing it with His beauty and good.
Thomas Dubay in “The Evidential Power of Beauty” says that transcendent beauty creates an emotional experience that awakens and fills our human needs: HOW? By being connected to the spiritual, God’s work in us.
For Example: Beauty Fills:
- Our souls with wonder – Wonder is the normal response to splendor. It makes us question and dream. This is why Biola’s scholars and teachers share in their separate disciplines a common trait, an indispensable characteristic; namely, that of marveling at the reality of God, and looking for Him in all their explanations and reasonings.
- Beauty fills our soul to experience delight. God made us for ecstasy “a joy so glorious that it cannot be described” says Peter in I Peter 1:8. This is our final destiny – the beatific vision – seeing God and His glorious city.
- Beauty fills our soul with personal enrichment satisfied by beauty. As we are enriched and filled by beauty, we in turn enrich others.
- Beauty fills our soul to pursue and find truth – being in touch with reality is a human need and truth is beautiful and satisfying.
- Beauty fills our soul with mystery. We respond by being drawn out of ourselves in delight and intense joy. Scientifically speaking, beauty’s traits are elegant simplicity, harmony, and brilliance. The Bible calls this the “glory of created things.” When the transcendental properties of a thing are present (goodness, truth, and unity), then our human response is to perceive this whole as beauty. Hence: any whole tree is beautiful, while a pile of logs, lumber, and sawdust are not.
- Finally, beauty fills our souls with love and a desire to be loved. A true falling in love is beautiful resulting in a selfless commitment to the fascinating beloved.
God is the most beautiful thing.
What gives him glory is that we reflect his beauty in all areas of our soul so the world may know, see, and be drawn through the beauty of His handiwork in us to Himself.