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Can Beauty Save Us? (with a Christmas postscript)

Updated: Dec 26, 2023

(Note: Written on October 14, 2023)

This week Israel was brutally attacked by Hamas, a terrorist organization and the de facto government in Gaza. Terrorists infiltrated border communities and slaughtered 1200 civilians, including 200 youth gathered for a festival. The government of Israel promising vengeance has sent fighter jets to bomb Gaza, a tiny but densely populated Palestinian enclave of 2 million people. As of this writing, it is estimated that 1537 Palestinians have died, including 500 children and 300,000 are now homeless. This morning Israeli military massing at the northern border of Gaza, have ordered 1 million civilians living in Gaza City to move to the south of the blockaded coastal strip.

The seeds of this conflict are long and complex. Fueled by a minority of extremist voices. The way to peace eludes us. Humanities capacity for violence can easily lead to despair.

Perhaps like you, I've been asking myself: Where is hope to be found?

John O' Donahue the Irish poet, philosopher and mystic (and witness to historic conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland), believes that a key element to finding a way forward is in embracing beauty and access to beauty as a basic human right. That the ability to rest in and create beauty is enough to open our human imagination to new ways of seeing and being.

Could it be that simple?

Where do you find beauty? How does beauty inspire, renew and restore you?

Krista Tippett, host of On Being, interviewed John O' Donohue, the Irish poet, philosopher and mystic three months before his unexpected death at age 53. He insisted on beauty as a human calling. He had a very Celtic, lifelong fascination with the inner human landscape and what he called “the invisible world”

In reflecting on the struggle for those holding onto hope and humanity in the midst of trauma, poverty and violence John O' Donohue offers:

'It's the question of beauty, I mean, you’re asking, essentially — as we are speaking, that there are individuals holding out on frontlines, holding the humane tissue alive in areas of ultimate barbarity, where things are visible that the human eye should never see. And they’re able to sustain it because there is in them some kind of sense of beauty that knows the horizon that we are really called to in some way.

Imagine. On the frontlines of war (Ukraine, Israel, Gaza...), there are individuals 'holding the humane tissue alive' .... Because in them, a sense of beauty guides and sustains. In Israel and in Gaza there are people this day holding onto their humanity....offering kindness and hope to family and stranger alike.

These are the ones who will be needed once this horrific war is over. Offering a way forward, past the extremism of any religious or political group. Able to envision a more humane future for everyone. The ones to break the cycle of violence begetting violence. The ones to pursue a path to healing, hope and reconciliation. Such is the way of beauty.

O' Donahue goes on to say:

Orange blossoms of Israel and Gaza

I love Pascal’s phrase that you should always keep something beautiful in your mind. And I have often — like in times when it’s been really difficult for me, if you can keep some kind of little contour that you can glimpse sideways at, now and again, you can endure great bleakness."

At this moment the present looks bleak. Political and cultural divisions are painfully present in the USA too. Yet, the capacity resides within each of us, to discover and hold onto a piece of beauty. And from this place, work towards a future that is hopeful and beautiful not only for me and mine and for all of humanity, indeed for all of creation.

3000 years ago, the prophet Isaiah spoke:

How beautiful on the mountains

are the feet of those who bring good news,

who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings...

Could it be that simple?

With you on the journey ~ Kent Harrop

Postscript: Writing on December 24th, 2023

Since my article 'Can Beauty Save us'' posted on October 14th, 20,000 people in Gaza (majority women and children according to the UN) have been killed, countless thousands of others injured in body and mind. 80% of homes uninhabitable. The most brutal response in the seemingly endless cycle of violence begetting violence between Israel and Palestinians in the 75 year plus year history of Israel becoming a modern nation in 1948. Is there any path to a just and lasting peace? Can beauty save us?

On this Christmas Eve, can the story of God making a home in the life of a helpless infant show us the way forward? A child born in a time of oppression, to homeless parents, forced to flee a violent king, only to become refugees in a far off land (Gospel of Matthew 2) offer humanity a path to a new way of being? This child who would grow up to teach and bear witness to a life of beauty: forgiveness, love of ones enemy, love for those on the margins.

Can this profound message (rooted in the Christian and Hebrew Scripture) 'to love God with ones whole heart and our neighbor as ourself' (Matthew 22: 35-40; Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 6:4-5) save us, even now?

I refuse to believe that this cycle of violence is inevitable. I add my voice to those who imagine a day when Palestinians, like Israelis will have a land to call their own (a two state solution). Where the children of Israel and the children of Palestine can grow up in safety and have hope for a better tomorrow. Where two peoples, learn to live as neighbors.

I believe in the capacity of the human spirit to do good. To be creative, kind and generous. It begins with the acknowledgement that the way of violence, in the longterm, never works.

There is a better way. I believe that beauty can save us. On this Eve of Christmas I invite you to add your prayers and your voice. For the sake of the children of Israel and Palestine now and not yet born, may it be so.

With you on the journey ~ Kent Harrop

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