the question of beauty

When I was in high school, I had a remarkable teacher in a world history class. I remember his name (and wonder if he is still alive). I cannot remember any of the exact words or streams of thought in his lectures, but I remember how his ideas ignited things inside me. He spoke about the question of beauty, this in the context of worldwide movements of upheaval (!) and without dropping packaged answers into the hearts of skeptics, he left at least me wondering. . . what exactly is beauty? Why do I respond to certain things and not others? Could there be a code of meaning here that speaks beyond language and culture and time? This further fueled a life long interest in art, and in the meaning behind things.

This morning I watched as a spider finished her web. She had several strands tied way beyond her tiny body up to the gutters of the house. Then she had one tied to the Laurel bush, and another anchored on the Japanese Maple. She swayed in the beautiful center of her fragile trap. Her brain, or instinctive operating center, or whatever she has that makes her move with such deliberation, has to be no bigger than a pinhead! How does she do this, and can she possibly know the beauty here? She certainly cannot see the bigger picture of what she has constructed. And it’s a trap of death for goodness sake! There is something bigger that has set things in play that she has no ability even to imagine.

And so I continue, my pencils making webs, my brushes searching with color, my tiny awareness of the things brewing worldwide at great disadvantage. This same morning I saw this in Psalm 2: “Why are the nations in an uproar, and the peoples devising a vain thing?” And I realize that before we can really handle answers, we have to be somehow startled to grapple with the big questions. And beauty, it seems to me, is one gentle way of walking us there.

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