The Restorative Power of Beauty

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What is it about beauty that refreshes me and puts my mind at rest? It’s not simply looking upon a beautiful scene or object that restores and delights me. It’s looking upon that beauty and knowing that it has the very fingerprints of God all over it. The truth that it comes directly Him, and is a reflection of His beauty, is what gives everyday beauty meaning and causes me to delight in it.

There is something about beauty that has the power to elevate the human spirit in the worst of circumstances. When Corrie ten Boom and her sister, Betsie, were imprisoned during WWII, they were living in separate cells at one point. Corrie was wondering how her sister, who so loved beauty, was surviving the drab dungeon-like atmosphere of a prison cell. One day she had the opportunity to view her sister’s cell, and described what she saw there:

“…Unbelievably, against all logic, the cell was charming… the straw pallets were rolled instead of piled in a heap, standing like little pillars among the walls, each with a lady’s hat atop it. A headscarf had somehow been hung along the wall. The contents of several food packages were arranged on a small shelf… Even the coats hanging on their hooks were part of the welcome of that room, each sleeve draped over the shoulder of the coat next to it like a row of dancing children…”[1]

Betsie made that horrible place as beautiful as she possibly could for all of its inhabitants. Beauty is a gift that we can give to those who share the spaces we inhabit.

What about when we live in a place in which it is more difficult to see beauty?

 

In my former home, I was swimming in it… literally. After school, I would walk down the road to the Strait of Georgia, where I might spy a blue heron standing on one leg, or spot a seal surfacing not far from the shore; all against the breathtaking backdrop of the coastal mountain range.

 

 

 

On rainy days, I’d go out my back door into the west coast rain forest, where the moss hung like tinsel from the fir trees, and the raindrops bounced off the lacy ferns that lay at my feet.

After a long day’s work, I would look forward to these times in nature, and would return home refreshed and feeling almost as if I’d had a bath (perhaps in the rain, I had!)

I went through a kind of beauty withdrawal when I moved to the city. Beauty is here, but it isn’t as easy to get to. However, the joy and surprise when I unexpectedly encounter beauty now is a wonderful gift.

Today, I walked to a neighborhood park and spied some lovely trees all dressed in their autumn best, with a delicate carpet of leaves spreading out beneath them.

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I realize that I appreciate beauty more now when I see it. It’s like a cool drink of water in a desert of concrete and graffiti.

It’s also a very special gift from the One that I love. When I appreciate His gifts, it causes my heart to rejoice in the Giver of those gifts. It reminds me of His beauty, for He is the most beautiful One of all.

Lately I have been considering how we help children to appreciate and enjoy beauty as a gift from God and a reflection of who He is. Not beauty for beauty’s sake, but beauty as it points to God’s glory and grace.

I was on a hike through some spectacular scenery recently, and one of my fellow hikers pointed out the hollowness of trying to enjoy the beauty we were surrounded with, if we didn’t have a God to thank and praise for it. I had to agree! Our loving God gives appreciating beauty meaning; otherwise our appreciation stops short of the full-orbed awe and wonder it was meant to provoke in us.

When beauty leads us to rejoice in the goodness, power, and majesty of our God, then it serves its restorative purpose in our lives. It restores us to our humble position of gratitude before our Maker, the One who has made everything beautiful in its time.

 

[1] from p. 150-151, “The Hiding Place” by Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill, 1971, Chosen Books.

The Vanity of Self-Esteem

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by Tina Olesen

I’m not really sure who popularised the notion of self-esteem as being an essential need of every human being, but I know who was behind it: the father of lies. It seems to have picked up steam in popular psychology in the 1960s and ballooned from there.

Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, included self-esteem in his “hierarchy of needs” theory which many of us may recall from Psychology 101. What I don’t recall hearing about in that class was that Maslow probably developed this theory out of his work with monkeys. Maslow thought that some needs took precedence over others, such as thirst over hunger. From this idea he developed a theory that when one’s physiological needs are met then other psychological “needs” will arise, and he put these so-called “needs” in a hierarchy of importance. Self-esteem was a “need” placed near the top of what Maslow thought it would take to fulfill one’s potential. His faulty premise for thinking was that self-actualization was the purpose of life.

Not surprisingly, near the end of his career Maslow tipped over into transpersonal psychology. He began to explore the idea of “self-transcendence”. In Toward a Psychology of Being, he said, “We need something ‘bigger than we are’ to be awed by and to commit ourselves to in a new, naturalistic, empirical, non-churchly sense…” Sadly, Maslow completely missed the point that we were made “to be awed by and to commit ourselves” to Jesus Christ.

One only has to look at the example of Christians like Corrie and Betsie ten Boom to debunk Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. When sisters Corrie and Betsie were imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, they were often hungry, sick, cold and exhausted. In the midst of their suffering in that horrific place, they displayed remarkable courage, faith, patience, and love for their fellow prisoners. Their lives glorified God and drew people to Jesus Christ, thus fulfilling their true purpose.

The premise for living for the Christian is to exalt and magnify Jesus Christ, not to promote and actualize ourselves. As John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Paul put it this way to the Galatian church: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Concerning ourselves with seeking self-actualization or self-esteem is completely anti-Christian, besides being totally counterproductive. Jesus tells us why: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it… Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.”

It’s quite astounding to see how much acceptance the notion of self-esteem has gained in parenting and educational circles, and how far reaching its influence has been. In the last few decades, “low self-esteem” quickly became the explanation or excuse offered for nearly any kind of bad behavior in a child. She’s pouting? She’s just feeling bad about herself. He’s bullying? He doesn’t like himself so he hurts others.

Parents felt guilty if they didn’t heap enough flattery on their child: “You’ll hurt his self-esteem!” It was as if the child’s whole future hung in the balance if he didn’t gain a favourable view of himself. Some educators began to worry about children getting a poor self-concept if they got a low mark on something or didn’t win an award, which resulted in the equal distribution of undeserved praise. Everybody’s special and everybody’s a champion… really?

Excessive self-consciousness is the bad fruit of the self-esteem movement. This phenomenon is well-documented in social media today. Not only are many kids overly concerned with how they look, but they may spend hours carefully crafting an image fit for their web presence, taking “selfies” that will boost their online appearance. Idolatry of the self is where self-esteem psychology logically ends up.

As a culture, we’ve lost our healthy fear of pride. It seems we’re no longer repulsed by Narcissus. The danger of “getting a swelled head” used to be something people guarded against. Of pride, C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

“..It was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind… it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began… pride always means enmity – it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.”

Thomas Watson said rightly that “All Christian growth is finally growth in humility.”

Humility isn’t beating yourself up or always talking about your faults – that would just be another form of excessive self-concern. Oswald Chambers accurately observed, “There is nothing more awful than conscious humility, it is the most Satanic type of pride… Jesus Christ presented humility as a description of what we shall be unconsciously when we have become rightly related to God and are rightly centred in Jesus Christ.”

Rather than concerning ourselves with building self-esteem, we ought to be humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,” (1 Peter 5:5, James 4:6). Jesus Christ is the definition of humility.

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