That Beauty is Vital to the Masculine Soul
The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.
We’ll say it: power tools and justice and motorcycles are more obvious participants in a journal for young men than Van Gogh and Philip Glass. Well, so be it. More obvious, but no more relevant. That being the case, and since beauty is a mainstay of this journal, we thought it important to begin with an explanation. Here it is.
Beauty is vital to the heart—to the masculine heart—and it is almost catastrophically neglected.
This is because, in the first part, beauty is seen as feminine and also as weak. Well, composer Richard Wagner was an artist and turned his basement into a chemistry lab to make hand grenades for revolutionaries, and most men who ignore beauty seem like men who say they never want love. It's a brilliant ruse to seem like a stoic hero, and really a way to stay away from pain and longing and wildness beyond your control.
Beauty is key to masculinity. It is not, actually, enough to be strong. It is not enough to be wild. Eventually, we must be kind. Eventually, we must be compassionate, and kind, and sensitive to suffering. Eventually, we will have to love. And since all of that is entrenched in the heart and its feeling, it is deep in the realm of beauty.
Think of the way fly fishermen in wild places cradle their catch, letting the trout sink its weight onto their palm, recovering. Or the way fathers eventually have to kneel to see into their children’s eyes and say, “I know, sweetheart. I really do know.”
Beauty, like wildness, is a necessity.
Beauty is also healing.
It is healing because it is merciful. The reality is that life is costly. Terribly. As the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote:
Generation have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wear’s man’s smudge, and shares man’s smell: the soil
is bare now.
It does not matter, actually, how whole or wild or driven a life is. It will still wear, and it will wear most of all on the heart. Friendships fail. We are unheard. We lose a job, or cannot find a way out of the place we live. The world is costly, and it is not enough to bear it. Our hearts, our hearts as men, need restoration. Often.
For that, you have to start with the way rain fell after the Waldo Canyon Fire crushed the Front Range in Colorado. Rain that gathered in thick drops on the bark. Rain that soaked.
Or how once, I was in front of a Barnett Newman painting, and if I didn’t get it, then at least I was lost in the same way it was.
Or, when I was bow hunting one September west of Vail, I was walking out of the mountains, and the valley below was cool and dark, and across it, lights came on in the oncoming night. I could feel my heart yearn out into the evening, and breath it in. Think how you feel before a waterfall, or on the open ocean at night, or hearing a piece of music that brings tears you cannot explain.
And best of all, and what all of this is really saying, is that beauty is a way of knowing God. It is a way into that heart. As theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar pointed out in his ponderous, seven-volume theological aesthetics, Aristotle had it wrong. God, and Being, actually, is not true and therefore good and therefore beautiful. God is first beautiful, and is therefore good, and is therefore true. Consistent engagement with beauty is a discipline of opening up your heart and soul to receive God.