Our world misunderstands beauty for one reason: there is something in human nature that makes it so that beholding beauty isn’t enough. We think that we must devour it. C. S. Lewis wrote this:
“We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”
As a result, anything with the promise of beauty we devour thinking that the beautiful thing will somehow pass through us and become a part of us.
But beauty wasn’t meant to be eaten. It wasn’t meant to satisfy a hunger.
The sight of a beautiful landscape painting, with mountains and forests, or a starry night sky above a winding river, a world untouched by people and pristine in its stillness, for instance, can easily lure its spectators under its spell to the point where they have a strong desire to enter the world of the painting. Its beauty captivates. But the reality is that you can’t enter the painting. Your only response to that kind of beauty is to behold, and marvel of the craftsmanship and imagination of the artist, and to allow it to call forth ancient desires within you that point to the possibility of something transcendent.
Yet there is something within us that wants to devour beauty. To eat it up. Its what causes men to date women they shouldn’t, or to be addicted to sexual images and pleasure. Its what causes our infatuation with celebrity gossip… we want to eat and eat and eat to satiate a desire to become more a part of the lives of beautiful, rich, and glamorous people… to allow their beauty to somehow pass into and through us. So we eat…
Beauty was never meant to be devoured. It cannot fulfill the deep hungers of the soul. It was only meant to be beheld. To be looked at. When we simply behold the beauty of a work of art, a person, or a piece of music, it directs our attention to the Artist in whom the beauty originated.
When you eat something, it is destroyed. Eating is an act of the will to seize something which can only be freely given. When we treat beauty in this way, when we seek to devour it, we require more and more of the food and we get less and less of the satisfaction, and things that originally should have been beautiful have lost their luster, and we in turn have lost our capacity to appreciate beauty. Simone Weil said it this way: “it may be that even vice, depravity, and crime are in their essence attempts to eat beauty, to eat what we should only look at.”
God created beauty. He is the God of all beauty. Of every sunset, every forest, every mountain landscape, every sweet scent, every beautiful woman, every song, every painting, every masterful work of art. He created beauty to awaken us to Him. To direct our thoughts to Him, the only satiation of deep hunger. So walk into life with eyes wide open, finding beauty in obvious and hidden places, but remember that it is fools gold… a signpost to things unseen, and it was never meant to fill the stomach of your soul.
Hear the voice of God in beauty. See the touch of God in beauty. Let it captivate you.
But don’t eat it.