"Imperfect Beauty allows the perfect Beauty of God to shine more brightly."
I occasionally come across a writer who describes the beauty of a woman as being more perfect because of a small "flaw" such as a mole or scar or birthmark. This is usually in older books because in our enlightened age it is no longer acceptable to objectify people with labels such as "beautiful." But I digress.
One such example is William Goldman's wonderful book, "The Princess Bride." The book is written in the fairytale language of superlatives. Vizzini is the smartest man in the world, Fezzik is the strongest, and Inigo is the greatest swordsman, and so on.
Westley and Buttercup are in love, true love such as only comes along once in a generation. Westley sails off to make his fortune promising that he will return for Buttercup. But Westley's ship is attacked by pirates (the most vicious of course) and Westley is presumed dead. Buttercup retires to her room for several days to grieve.
At that time, Goldman tells us, Buttercup is pretty but barely in the top twenty of the most beautiful women in the world. But when she finally emerges from her grief:
"She had entered her room as just an impossibly lovely girl. The woman who emerged was a trifle thinner, a great deal wiser, an ocean sadder. This one understood the nature of pain, and beneath the glory of her features, there was character, and a sure knowledge of suffering. She was eighteen. She was the most beautiful woman in a hundred years."
Why do imperfections add to the beauty of a thing? Perhaps imperfections distract us from the surface aesthetics of an object, or a person, and allow us to see the true beauty or spirit that lies beneath.
Every baptized person has, living within them, the Holy Spirit. Every person has their own interior Word guiding them in all goodness and truth. The Spirit is closely linked with our physical bodies. We are flesh and spirit, we are form and content. Saint Paul tells us that beauty occurs when the form and the Spirit which inhabits it, become one. In a sense, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. We are beautiful because the Holy Spirit shines from within us, even through the veil of our humanity.
The early Church Fathers would explain this through the doctrine of "Kenosis." Kenosis is a Greek word meaning "emptying." It is used to describe God emptying himself into a weakened form (a human form) in order to become man.
Isaiah describes the servant of Yahweh in these terms.
"he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him." Isaiah 53:2
Rather the prophet speaks of an interior Beauty, the divine Beauty is a beauty of Spirit that lives within every person. This beauty is hidden by our human form which is imperfect due to our fallen nature.
Saint Peter points out that our true Beauty is not in out outward appearance, but is hidden in our hearts.
"Let not yours be the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of fine clothing, but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious." 1Peter 3:3
Imperfection or even infirmity then, becomes beautiful because it is made to serve the beauty within. In a mysterious way the weakness of a form bends to our true nature and our ultimate destiny, as glorified sons and daughters of God. Imperfect Beauty allows the perfect Beauty of God to shine more brightly.
In his final days, pope Saint John Paul II showed us the beauty of his spirit as disease weakened his body. The more withdrawn from the world he seemed the more the light of God shown through him, in every painful step he took.
The so-called fools for Christ took this idea to the extreme. They felt that by denying themselves everything, even personal dignity, the light of God would shine more brightly through them.
All of the arts are imperfect. They cannot be otherwise because they are reflections of God who is Beauty perfected. But this imperfection conceals a spirit of Beauty that can draw us beyond itself and point us to the ultimate source of all that is True and Good and Beautiful.
This is the challenge of the arts that we have all too often abandoned. All human activity should be directed toward revealing the Goodness of God. And every expression of the arts has the potential to do so, each in its own way. As God created all the world, His spirit resides in every part of what he created. It is the role of the artist to draw that spirit out for ll to see.
By contrast there is an ugliness of form which does not house a beautiful spirit. It is an empty shell devoid of content. Monstrous and fearful it borders on the demonic. It is a mask that hides the fact that it is devoid of meaning. When it manifests itself in the arts it shows us a world without God.
The kenotic veil may be thought of as humility. It keeps us from becoming too focused on the external aesthetics of an object and allows us to contemplate the true beauty the object points us to.
this article originally appeared at www.DeaconLawrence.org
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.org