I’d been hemming and hawing over whether to use the Kindle I bought back in January. I’m a fan of the old way, of turning pages and flipping around, creating dog ears through bent paper, highlights from ink.
But not long ago, the title of a book caught my attention — Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering Human in an Ideological Age by Gregory Wolfe.
Based on the title alone, I made a note to order the book. But I kept procrastinating the order, so finally decided to take the plunge and have it sent to my Kindle. Because I’ve only recently started it, I can neither review nor endorse. But in reflecting on the title and introductory pages, I’ve gleaned some important insight.
My gut response to the question of whether beauty can save the world is, yes. Yes it can. I believe it can. I know that it has, in moments, saved me. And if it can save one person, I’d imagine it can save the world.
By beauty, I mean things like…my child’s small hands on my hair; the first tulip popping up through spring soil, illuminated by early evening sunlight; that moment when a song at Mass rouses the deepest part of my soul.
These are beautiful things that have saved my world, or moments of it at least.
Wolfe starts with a reflection by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn from “Nobel Lecture,” who suggests that perhaps the “old trinity of Truth and Good and Beauty is not just the formal outworn formula of our heady, materialistic youth.
“If the crests of these three trees join together, as the investigators and explorers used to affirm, and if the too obvious, too straight branches of Truth and Good are crushed or amputated and cannot reach the light – yet perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable, unexpected branches of Beauty will make their way through and soar up to that very place and in this way perform the work of all three.”
(There’s beauty right there in the way he’s phrased his thoughts…)
Wolfe is quoting Solzhenitsyn who is quoting Dostoevsky, and there is more to be said on all this, but for the purposes of this post, I simply want to convey somehow what has been stirred within me since reflecting on this concept.
I’m thinking of the long conversation I had with an atheist about a year ago, and how diligently we parceled out everything we believe, dissecting each concept from our respective perspective. In the end, it was too much for both of us to take in and our conversation ended.
I will say that for me, when everything began to become muddled, when what I knew to be good and true was twisted to that extent, I began to thirst for beauty. Somehow, beauty had been marred by our conversations. I remember going to Mass and being so thankful just to sit in that space and allow myself to be touched by the beauty of the sacred again.
In the end, the twisting up of my faith, which is a beautiful thing to me, was too great a loss. I needed to turn away from the conversation as much as she did, though for different reasons.
So, the question remains: can beauty save the world? In my mind, if we can just stop long enough to gaze upon beauty, to recognize it, to take it into ourselves, then the answer, once again, is yes.
I’m fairly convinced that beauty can, and perhaps will be just the thing that saves us all.