John Keats famously penned, “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.” And as a set designer and creative producer within our Creative team, it is a concept I hold close to my heart. Yet in the midst of a global pandemic the words of the poet instigate more of an internal wrestle than comfort. Is beauty frivolous when humanity is hurting so collectively?
It feels instinctive to think it is. To throw beauty aside to attend to the more urgent … those sick from Covid, those who have lost jobs and a way to support their families, those who feel the real effects of isolation and fear. To those dealing with the reality and trauma of racism and social injustice.
And so as the months have passed and the internal wrestle has continued, I have come to these three thoughts regarding beauty…
1. Beauty is not the “thing” (and it was never meant to be)
I think it would be fair to say that perhaps no matter how much beauty we are surrounded with – no matter how much love or joy or wealth or blessing – there always remains in our hearts a longing for more. Beauty is not enough in crisis (or any time), because it is not in fact the beauty we wanted… it’s something so much more. Or as C.S. Lewis puts it in The Weight of Glory:
“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.
[But] the books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn to dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.
Covid has provided us all opportunity to remember that the art we get to create and the beauty we experience is only ever a pale reflection of the most beautiful one – Christ. And it is THROUGH beauty, not in it, that we can get glimpses of His Glory.
2. Beauty still matters
For now, I have exchanged crafting beauty in arenas and auditoriums for shaping beauty within my own home. Instead of “setting the table” for our incredible congregation and conference delegates, I set the table for brunch after the 9am online service with my flatmates; I bake cakes and cut flowers from the garden for dinner with friends; and find fun ways to gather with the girls for nights like Sisterhood United Night. I find that all these little details are just a small step to soften hearts and making space for people to engage in the most beautiful and honest conversations.
Because, the core belief of labouring to bring beauty and awe to the look and feel of our church services and conferences has always been to echo WELCOME HOME. To remind everyone walking in that we’ve spent time preparing a place for them, because they are valued and worthy of effort. That we may represent Christ well.
So although the space and venue changes the purpose never has.
3. Beauty is worth fighting for
Even a quick look into history only echoes that beauty is worth fighting for. Creator Dave Zaboski even goes as far as to say, “every great crisis this earth has ever known has been saved by profound acts of creativity. We need beauty…”
In my wrestle to understand where beauty fits in a pandemic, I have discovered architects who approach beauty as a basic human need when designing and building refugee camps.
And I have sat again and again with this thought by architect Raul Pantaleo, who designs hospitals in war zones…that “beauty becomes sort of a first message you give the patient, that you consider them as equal.”
And so it leads me to conclude that:
Perhaps, true and purposed beauty actually holds a power to stir up hope in the human soul and a faith and resolve that better days can and do exist ahead of us.
Perhaps outrageous beauty for the broken and hurting, for the weak and the poor is what is required.
Perhaps there is nothing vain or frivolous or wasteful about a beauty like this.
What a beautiful opportunity for us, the Church.
Set Designer + Creative Producer