Charles Thomas: Becoming Beauty

An engraved watercolor portrait of American novelist, short story writer, and journalist Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961). He published seven novels, six short-story collections, and two nonfiction works, and was awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature.

In the recent Keep Your Voice Down podcast episode “Be Seth Rogen, not Steig Larsson,” Watershed Voice Executive Editor Alek Haak-Frost talked about the novel he recently started working on again after a long hiatus. The novel, which you can hear all about if you listen to the podcast, sounds like a great tale and I look forward to reading it when it’s finished. I think it’s admirable that Alek is getting back to telling his story. The world would be a better place if we all had Alek’s courage to share our stories.

I can say from personal experience that writing a novel is not an easy task though. It takes a lot of sustained creative effort to write something that long. It takes even more effort to edit a long work. But what’s probably the hardest thing to do is to share your finished work with other people knowing that some of them will not like it, and some will probably even hate it. It’s also quite possible that a few people, people you consider your friends, may even make fun of what you create.

In spite of these massive personal risks, creative people of all varieties share what they create with others every single day. Why do they take the risk? Why put yourself in a position to have something you worked on for hundreds of hours become the subject of ridicule? Why risk openness and honesty when we live in a culture that has a strong tendency to mock almost everything?

I’m sure there is no single answer to those questions, but I think an important reason that we take those risks is because deep down, all of us want to be a part of something beautiful. In fact, I think that a drive to merge with the beautiful is essential to who we are as human beings.

C.S. Lewis thought a lot about beauty and considered our desire for it to be deeply important. Lewis said “we do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough.” What we really want, Lewis thought, is “to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”

We can achieve a taste of that union with beauty when we create beautiful things. When we write a beautiful song or craft a poem that helps people understand how they are feeling, a part of us goes into that creation. But it’s not just through creating works of art that people can feel this union with beauty. You can feel it when you meticulously paint an accent wall in your home, or when you arrange flowers in a way that accentuates their nature beauty. I often feel it after I’ve mowed my lawn and take a moment to stand back and look at the order that now exists where previously existed only chaos.

James Munson became the first superintendent of the Northern Michigan Asylum in Traverse City in 1885. Munson believed that beauty was vital in assisting the patients of the asylum to recover from their mental illnesses. Munson famously said that “beauty is therapy,” and used beautiful architecture and frequent exposure to paintings, plays and music, to help patients heal.

Beauty was central to life for Munson, but in our modern American culture, beauty is often considered ancillary to our lives, and relegated to a place of low importance. But what if Munson and Lewis are right and beauty is actually central to life and central to human flourishing?

Lewis wrote that “the books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust them, it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing…which no natural happiness will satisfy.”

C.S. Lewis argued that all of our longings — like hunger or thirst — exist only because they can be satisfied. Our hunger can be satisfied with food and our thirst by drinking water. But what of our desire to be merged with beauty? Will that desire also be satisfied?

Lewis thought that someday it would be, and while we may not be able to achieve this union on our own, when we create beauty we become a part of this unfolding eschatological process. So, bravo to Alek and everyone else reading this who are working to create more beauty in the world in a myriad of ways. Whether you create beautiful sentences, beautiful relationships, or beautiful lawns, remember that what you do to create loveliness in the world is of great importance.

What you are doing may be more important than you even realize.

Charles D. Thomas is a writer, psychotherapist, and Main Street Media Group board member who made Three Rivers his home for over a decade. Feedback is welcome at [email protected]

Any views or opinions expressed in “Big World, Small Town” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Watershed Voice staff or its board of directors.


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