How then can you see the sort of beauty a good soul has? Go back into yourself and look; and if you do not see yourself beautiful, then just as someone making a statue … must cut away excess and straighten the crooked and clear the dark and make it bright and never stop until the divine glory of virtue shines out on you.”
Hellenistic philosopher Plotinus lived in Roman Egypt between the years 205-270. In his “Enneads,” he wrote about beauty. Of course, he ponders the aesthetic — that is, the arts and their practice revealed in dance, music, theater and art.
He writes about beauty in harmony. “Beauty, then, is established in it when it brought together in unity, and this beauty communicates itself both to the parts and the whole.”
At one point, he writes, “it is necessary, if the whole is beautiful, for the parts also to be beautiful; for beauty cannot arise from ugly things.”
I wonder at that. Can beauty come out of something ugly, experienced … or even formed within one’s self?
For as long as I can recall, I remember stories of how a pearl forms from a bit of grit within an oyster’s center. Something foreign, other, painful and not intended to be inside the oyster causes the oyster to surround it in beauty, layer by layer.
Beauty rises out of ashes. Like a phoenix that is consumed by flame and bursts forth.
Sometimes, Scripture seeps into me in a way it could not have at another time. I turned to Isaiah 61:3 trying to understand the scriptural allusions in Steven Curtis Chapman’s song “Beauty Will Rise.” It tells about a terrible day in his life, the death of his child in a tragic car accident.
But buried deep beneath / All our broken dreams / We have this hope
Out of these ashes, beauty will rise / And we will dance among the ruins
We will see Him with our own eyes / Out of these ashes, beauty will rise
For we know, joy is coming in the morning, / In the morning, beauty will rise
His tragedy is not mine, but vividly, I remember driving along country roads headed home as my world came undone, thread by thread. The pounding beat, the earnestness of his voice, the explosion of hope that hints at joy made it possible for me to imagine that beauty would rise in my own life, out of my own experience of ashes.
Chapman sings: “It will take our breath away to see the beauty that’s been made out of the ashes.” It does. Time and again. This morning, I gasped at the beauty of an autumn chill while birds dashed at a new pace from branch to branch. Breath escaped me as I saw honeybees in their final fall dance. When I saw our child hug her siblings, I felt my heart beat again.
Gradually, week by week, we have been carving, straightening and clearing. We will not stop. I know the beauty is in both the shadow and the light. Beauty comes from ugliness and pain, the grit and the grain. I choose to see the grace in it and to claim it.