Beauty and hope

How Beauty instills the virtue of Hope

This is a guest post by Timothy Chapman. Timothy grew up in southern Illinois. He has degrees in English, history, and divinity and is currently a youth minister in St. Louis, MO. A version of this essay was first published at the website Here Is a Place.

My days, like many of yours, I bet, are usually spent in the busyness at hand, of to-do lists and iCal checks, of tickets to pay and shirts to drop off at the cleaners, of downloading apps to help with efficiency and drowning out spare silences by checking emails and playing three minutes and twenty-seven seconds of a podcast. Stoplights are often the biggest pause in the oppressive constancy of hours packed to the brim.

But I am a napper. I would take a 22 minute nap everyday if I could–and I try my hardest to could. Falling asleep is not one of my strong suits when the night is on and the the moon is present shining. But there is something magically conducive to sleep that happens at about 2:00 pm most days that enables me to stretch cross-legged on my back and drift off to a moment of refreshment.

A few weeks ago, I lay down one afternoon to take a nap and threw a red blanket over me. As it drifted down onto the white sheet of my bed, it made such a bold, solid contrast that I was struck for a moment with what felt like hope. This is what white sheets are for: to remind us of broad fields drifted with snow, of clouds so full the crisp blue sky is but a background, of Easter vestments pure and extraordinary, trimmed in gold and heavenly. In this moment, simple white sheets imparted to me the hope of soiled garments washed in crimson blood that are made white as wool and radiant. They gave me hope that things don’t have to remain as they are, that I don’t have to remain as I am, but that one day, I too shall be clothed in the robes of heaven.

In my room full of furniture and books, the ceiling fan whirred overhead, and the gentle afternoon sunlight steadily warmed the houseplants on the window sill. However struck I was in this moment, I fell asleep quickly, and the profound beauty of that suddenly deep sense of hope was dulled upon waking by a return to the preoccupations of the day.

Why does beauty (especially of such a common and simple sort) instill hope? How does the contrast of a block of red on a simple white background impart peace to my weary mind even more strikingly than the fleeting freedom of a deep breath?

It’s said that faith, hope, and charity fill the voids, respectively, of doubt, despair, and pride, that these six antitheses can all dwell in various measure within each of us, but that we tend to struggle particularly with one of the pairs. For me, it’s hope. Hope seems truly like a thing with feathers, flitting away at any opportunity. So often, the world seems overcome by such hideousness, falsehood, and evil that all else seems eclipsed or at least dimmed by this darkness hovering in the ether.

Hope is so compelling because I struggle to have much–not all the time, of course, but it seems more difficult for me to hope than to have faith or even love. So, the beauty of a gray spring mist over rolling mountains, the truth in a friend’s honest eyes, the goodness in stories of people who give their lives for the sake of others each offer me a foothold against the slippery face of despair. The littlest things of beauty, truth, and goodness show us something beyond our hard hearts, our tears, our stubborn dispositions, and give us a glimpse of the virtues we long to see in ourselves and in our world.

No matter how subtly these lights may flicker, at times they are arresting. I need to step into these times more and more. I need to let sheets and rain and tired laughter seep deeper into my heart and begin to clear away the choking fog of all that’s “not the way it’s supposed to be.” Perhaps if I give these magical scenes their due, hope will begin to prove itself, to multiply. This is not the power of positive thinking. This is finding real, solid evidence, reasons to have hope because it’s already there, shimmering and patient.

Here is a place for surrendering our emotions to momentary beauty, for celebrating the goodness in justice fighters across the world, for feeling beyond the sting of truth and into its pleasant healing. If you struggle to love yourself or others, pay attention to those times when you are struck by the organized complexity of truth. When faith feels out of reach or impossible, cling to the kindness in a stranger’s hand. Because, for all its faults, even now, this earth, right here is a place for hope.

from Dappled Things

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