I have always loved this quote, even before I knew where it was from, but I have not always believed it. Even when I heard it perfectly illustrated at a conference about the arts – about the necessity of beauty – even then I didn’t believe it. There was a seed of Midwestern Baptist doubt that nothing, not even the beauty I crave like living water, could be so instrumental in saving the world. But yesterday I found a new layer of understanding.
I wish I could say it was a new understanding altogether but my spirit has rarely learned like that, in leaps and bounds. I grow slowly and deeply and my roots have to push deeper into a thing, a truth or a season or a reality, before I can see it slowly growing in my own life. The thing about beauty is it’s been growing on my heart for the past year and a half and only now can I shape into words how this belief is changing me.
But I don’t have to just believe that beauty will save the world anymore. I’ve heard stories so blatant they spell it out nice and slow for even those as stupid as me. The story I heard this spring was the story of a woman in a choral group that sang old latin hymns. She loved them for their beauty even though she didn’t believe the truth of them. And yet gradually, that beauty became so rooted in her heart that she began to wonder if these words about Christ and saving and hope could actually be true. There were other influences in the gradual renewal of her beliefs, but it began with the hymns of a dead language whose words were very much alive.
Yesterday it came home to me in my own way: I had tucked my toddler in for bed and stepped outside for a walk. We live in the woods, at camp, with other families: there were people who’d hear him if he cried, and I only wanted to walk the quarter-mile loop of the driveway a few times. There were birds singing. A sunset glow was gathering on the opposite hill. Wildflowers were blooming – some I know, like shooting stars and blue flags and golden smoke and alpine bluebells. Even more that I want to learn were pushing their blossoms up in places I didn’t expect, catching me off-guard with perfect tiny white blossoms and surprising fragrances. Last year’s rose hips marked the places where this year’s roses will bloom.
I walked in that wide loop for a long time, just savoring the freshness of the air and the presence of the flowers and the singing of the wind on the tops of the hills. It’s moments like that which give me the ability to go back to being a mama with more gentleness. Walking and solitude and beauty give me the chance to be restored. They save the way I talk to my toddler, or my husband or my friends. They change the way I write, process, imagine. They save the way I see the world, the way I understand beauty and its small saving graces. Yes, beauty will save the world, one wildflower, one tired mama at a time.
There’s hope in this knowledge; when I can’t find or get to beauty, I can know it still exists. It still changes things. It still saves in it’s own small God-made ways. And when I can, it saves me, sends me back to God again in ways that don’t quite happen in a church. Yes, beauty will save the world, sometimes whether we realize it or not.