why we need beauty
Editor’s Note: When you work in American politics, you live every day at the intersection of everyone’s hopes and fears. So what do you do when the hopes and fears of those around you are misplaced? What do you do when they drive a wedge between our fellow Americans and keep us from being able to have conversations with others? How do you respond when you’re stuck between acquiescing to the ill-informed demands of the electorate, and challenging their perspective with bold leadership?
Living in this intersection is a tension that may never be resolved, and perhaps should never be resolved. But if we don’t manage the tension well, or understand it, our work culture and our communication will be driven by misplaced hopes and fears. When you multiply those decisions by 435 congressional offices, and add our campaigns and political nonprofits and universities and strategists and lobbyists and the Senate into the mix, it’s not hard to see why a job in politics can quickly become a life-taking machine devoid of creativity, truth, and beauty.
We need to begin the restoration process by taking in beauty, and doing so often. Its power can bring healing. When you watch a sunset, or hike along a mountain trail, you let that beauty inside of you: those moments, if properly understood, aren’t fleeting, but point to a deeper and richer human experience, one that if captured in our political culture would leave us shouting, “LIBERATUS—We Are Set Free.”
-Caleb Paxton, LIBERATUS Founder
I have always been told that there are ocean people and mountain people.
I grew up in a family of mountain people. We spent most summers in Colorado letting our well-worn hiking boots carry us to peaks and valleys. Eventually, I grew to love the mountains, maybe even considering myself one of the “mountain people.” Mountains aren’t easy. To really experience a peak you have to read about it, plan for it, and invest time and energy before you can really see all the beauty it has to offer. When I think of a mountain person, I think of my Dad: strong and steady, unassuming, with the faintest glimmer of adventure always present in his eyes.
However, no matter how hard I try to fight it, and how dearly I love the mountain people in my life, I’m an ocean person. I spent the first 22 years of my life in the heart of America. Seeing the ocean wasn’t a weekend getaway; it was a pilgrimage. That all changed my junior year of college when I had the opportunity to live in Cape Town, South Africa, for six months. For those who don’t know, Cape Town sits at the very tip of the continent of Africa. The city holds the meeting point of the warm Indian Ocean and the cold, expansive Atlantic Ocean. When I placed my toes in the intersection of millennia of the greatest triumphs and downfalls of human history, from exploration to the slave trade, it finally all made sense to me. To love the ocean is to be a part of something greater than yourself. You don’t just look at the ocean, you immerse your whole self in it. If you’ve ever been caught in a rip tide, you know that when you dive into the ocean, you are giving up all control. You can choose to be a part of its rhythmic current, or you can get out. For me, the natural rhythm of the ocean offers rest. It tells me to slow down and remember the tiny, fleeting narrative I play in a much greater story.
"I believe that making time to experience beauty is a basic necessity for human flourishing."
Whether you are an ocean or a mountain person, I believe that making time to experience beauty is a basic necessity for human flourishing. However, no matter how transcendent a moment is, from floating in the ocean to hearing a beautiful piece of music, to spending hours under the stars listening to the heart of a friend, this beauty is only an echo of eternity. C.S. Lewis explains this idea when he says, “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. . . . 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 yet visited.” (The Weight of Glory).
As I write this peering out the window, I am overwhelmed by the lavishness of creation with the last hints of fall clinging to the trees and the bright canvas of October spread across the brick sidewalk. However, in the same glance I see a homeless man, perched on the corner asking for money as people avoid eye-contact and briskly walk past, hoping to bar the realities of this fallen world from their morning commute. My hope is that as we dive into beauty, immersing ourselves in all it has to offer, we will be renewed to run into the dark places, knowing that the world, the ocean, the beat of the current against our bare feet is a story of redemption, of a beautiful God drawing his people back to himself.
Today’s writer is a current Legislative Correspondent in the U.S. House of Representatives. The cover photo was taken by the writer during the six month stay in South Africa.
WEEKLY ACTION ITEM:
Take some time this week to take in beauty. Have a difficult decision to make at work? Find a park and go for a walk first. Need to resolve a complicated policy issue? Set up that meeting on a park bench instead of your cubicle.
If you’re working in Congress, skip the Longworth Basement and set up that afternoon coffee you need to schedule for later this week at the U.S. Botanic Garden, and hash things out in the Jungle.