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photo by matt bennett

Beauty Heals




It had been one of Those Days.

You know the kind—when everything seems to go sideways from the moment you get out of bed.

There is no milk so there is no cereal and you are late so there is no breakfast. You are halfway to work when you realize you forgot your phone and who can live without their phone these days so you are late to work because you went back and got your phone and now you are behind on everything and people are tweaked at you. You can’t answer that urgent email because you are waiting for an answer yourself but the person who has it took the morning off for a “doctor’s appointment” (bullshit, you think; they are out for a ride). On it goes.

You look forward to lunch as your first chance to come up for air but the line at your favorite taco place is out the door and though you should have stayed you are already well on your way to totally fried so you leave in frustration which only makes you skip lunch which justifies your use of chocolate and caffeine to see you through the afternoon but that completely takes your legs out from under you and all you end up accomplishing is making the list of all the things you need to do which overwhelms you. By the time you get home you are seriously fried.

photo by matt bennett

photo by matt bennett

I was seriously fried—deep in a vat of anger and frustration and self-indulging cynicism and fatigue. A dangerous place to be. The next move could be rescue, or the KO punch.

After a cold dinner I went out on the porch and just sat there. I knew I needed rescue and I knew the nearest hope of that was the porch.

It was a beautiful Indian summer evening, the kind where the heat of the day has warmed the breezes, but you can also feel the cool from the mountains beginning to trickle down like refreshing streams. The crickets were going at it full bore, as they do when their season is about over, and the sunset was putting on a Western Art show. I could immediately feel the rescue begin to enter my body and soul. Beauty began its gentle work.

I let out a few deep sighs—“Spirit sighs,” as a friend calls them, meaning your spirit is breathing in the Spirit of God and you find yourself letting go of all the mess, letting go of everything. They weren’t cynical or defeated sighs, they were “letting it all go” sighs. My body relaxed, which made me realize how tense I had been all day. My heart started coming to the surface, as it often does when I can get away into nature and let beauty have its effect on me. Warm evening, cool breeze, beautiful sky now turning to that deep blue just before dark, crickets making their eternal melodies.

That’s when the carnival started.

A beer would make this a lot better, went the voice. Or maybe tequila. You oughta go find some cookies. Some agitated place in me started clamoring for relief. Even though the evening was washing over my soul, or maybe because it was allowing my soul to untangle, the carnival of desire started jockeying for my attention. I think there’s still some ice cream in the freezer.

It felt like two kingdoms were vying for my soul.

The carnival was offering relief. Beauty was offering restoration.

They are leagues apart, my brothers. Leagues apart.

photo by matt bennett

photo by matt bennett

Relief is momentary; it is checking out, numbing, sedating yourself. Television is relief. Eating a bag of cookies is relief. Tequila is relief. And let’s be honest—relief is what we reach for because it is immediate and it is usually within our grasp. Most of us turn there, when what we really need is restoration.

Beauty heals. Beauty restores. Think of sitting on the beach watching the waves roll in at sunset and compare it to turning on the tube and vegging in front of Narcos or Fear the Walking Dead. The experiences could not be farther apart. Remember how you feel sitting by a small brook, listening to its musical little songs, and contrast that to an hour of HALO. Video games offer relief; beauty offers restoration.

This is exactly what David was trying to put words to when he wrote that God “makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul” or as another translation has it, “He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength” (Ps 23:2-3). He is speaking of the healing power of beauty and oh, how we need it. The world we live in fries the soul on a daily basis, fries it with a vengeance. (It feels vengeful.)

So I stayed on the porch, choosing to ignore the chorus of vendors trying to get me to leave in search of some relief (Your favorite hunting show is on; maybe what you want is wine…). I knew that if I left all I would find was sugar or alcohol and my soul would be no better for it. So I chose to let the evening continue to have its healing effect.

The sunset was over. Night was falling and still I sat there. The evening itself was cool now, and an owl was hooting somewhere off in the distance. I could feel my soul settling down even more; the feeling was like “un-wrinkling” or “disentangling” on a soul level, maybe like what your body does in a hot tub. Thank you for this gift of beauty, I said. I receive it into my soul.

The carnival tried one last swing for the bleachers. There’s a women’s catalog on the counter in the stack of mail….Very, very clever. This counterfeit is harder to see, because now the offer is beauty. But you and I know when we give our soul over to the beauty of Eve, it never ever ends up healing the ache. Oh, sure—the relief feels almost instantaneous, but it never lasts (relief is not restoration) and it always comes with a shame hangover. But it does prove my point—when we reach there we are trying to heal something in us. We know down deep inside that beauty reaches those places like nothing else, and so the truly helpful thing to do is to stop and ask yourself, What is it I am trying to heal? What is the wound or the ache that I am trying to heal with the beauty of Eve?

Then what we do is turn to the true Source of beauty, the maker of all that is beautiful, and we ask for his love to come instead, and bring us restoration.

I made it through the last pitch and lingered on the porch just a little longer. Darkness, crickets, coolness, quiet. I felt like I had been through detox. And when I went to bed that night, it was as if the hellish day had never even happened. Restoration. So much better than mere relief.

photo by matt bennett