searching for the beautiful city

searching for the beautiful city

for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God…therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11:10, 16

I did this exercise at the start of 2017, in which my friends and I would each choose a “Word of the Year”. It seemed like a pretty daunting task: one word to sum up a year that had not yet begun. But, of course, the logophile that I am, went on a word-hunt – and chanced upon this one:


It reads ‘Kalos’, the Greek word for beautiful, good, worthy, according to Strong’s concordance. But it was the definition in the second entry that sealed the deal for me.

2570 kalós – attractively goodgood that inspires (motivates) others to embrace what is lovely (beautiful, praiseworthy); i.e. well done so as to be winsome (appealing).

Not only is this beauty good, but this good inspires others to search for the good, the beautiful.

John Donohue was discussing this concept of beauty on Krista Tippett’s podcast “Becoming Wise”.

What do you think of, when you think “beautiful”?

If you immediately picture a woman with make-up, and a perfect body, that’s glamour, he says to Krista.

“Beauty isn’t all about just nice, loveliness like. Beauty is about more rounded substantial becoming. So I think beauty in that sense is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.”

It’s about fullness, an abundance. A satisfaction of the a deep part of you that you didn’t know existed.

We try to describe what is beautiful: today, it was the way the pandan scoop of my ice-cream melted into dark chocolate one below, other days it’s hitting a harmony and holding it there, letting it swell into all of its richness.

But also, beauty is catching a glimpse of the goodness of human nature: volunteers venturing into debris, risking their lives to save another. Or a family deciding to give an orphan a home.

The best way I can put it in words: when I witness beauty, a deep part of me sighs “Ah, this is the way things should be.”

And I actually believe that this universal reaction to the beautiful is one of the strongest proofs of God. The very fact that we have some idea of what things should be, some desire to return to a state of union, peace, and goodness suggests to me that it actually exists.

It’s like we had amnesia after a terrible breakup, and certain triggers bring back faint memories of what we used to have, how we used to be.

The longings – the searchings of the heart – point us toward something, Someone, who is the ultimate satisfaction of what we yearn for.

I follow The Bible Project, and in their series on biblical themes, they have an interesting one on “Heaven and Earth”.

The basic concept is this:

Heaven and earth used to be one. The fall separated the two. In the end, heaven and earth will be reunited as one again.

Meanwhile, there are times and spaces when heaven touches earth.

In the Old Testament, it was the tabernacle. Then, the temple.

It was a place where the grand separation between heaven and earth was momentarily bridged (sort of like a tesselation in “A Wrinkle in Time”), and humans could experience a bit of heaven.

I’m guessing that it’s something like the feeling I get when I’m splayed out on grass with the heavens stretched out before me like canvas and I see stars I’ve never seen in my entire life, because I’ve never been in an International Dark Sky Region before.

Like entering a portal in which time is magically suspended and yes, heaven and earth kiss – just long enough for that thought to flit across your mind: maybe I am more than cells.

The craziest part of this all, though, is that portal between heaven and earth – what used to be the temple is now: us.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?

1 Corinthians 6:19

I don’t know if I’ll ever get it. How heaven and earth meet inside of me. That I get to be the space where people taste a bit of heaven, just like how Moses did in the tabernacle.

But it’s true.

We get all mixed up. Telling people that they have to clean up their act to get into heaven, so they get scared off because heaven is some immaterial, vague ideology that they don’t want to be a part of anyways, or at least is too far-off to think about.

When in fact, it’s here, now, in front of them: this is where heaven is meeting earth.

I love how Jesus says it, straightforward as He always is:

The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For behold the kingdom of God is in your midst (within you)

Luke 17:20-21

We point elsewhere for what heaven should be, when it is within us.

And for people who are searching for that ultimate good, for beauty, wholeness, satisfaction, and really, His kingdom, they should see a glimmer of it in you. In me.

It’s funny, I find, how Montreal is on one hand so anti-God, yet so big on creating and sustaining goodness.

They have these deliveries of organic vegetables called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) baskets. I’m subscribed to one from Second Life. The idea is that local farmers take produce that is slightly damaged and give it a ‘second life’. It’s ‘vegetable redemption’, basically.

Organic, health-food stores at almost every corner and with its first zero waste festival coming up in October, Montreal is big on searching for goodness. It wants beauty – and beauty doesn’t mean a perfectly shaped zucchini, but rather the redemption of one.

Living close to the ground, staying away from the artificial and working with the hands, the city is essentially making its way back to the Garden without its knowing it.

But this move towards wholeness: unsprayed vegetables from the muddy dirt, brown-rice flour, fabric shopping bags; it’s biblical.

One more thought about this human search for goodness and beauty:

I think that one of the most beautiful forms of being is the authentic one.

You see, I don’t want you to walk away from reading this post, thinking – Wow I have to now reach this unattainable standard of being the temple, the place where heaven meets earth? I have no idea how to do that.

Neither do I.

And that’s okay – because beauty is not about perfection, even though we have conflated the two for long enough (hence, the rising numbers of girls with anorexia).

Amanda Cook speaks about song-writing in this sermon titled “For the love of beauty”, about how writing songs is this quest to create beauty.

Yet, the beauty is not in a magical chord progression, or the strength of the singing voice. But rather, in how well the song mirrors the real human experience.

And to the extent that it resonates with the authenticity of what it means to be human, the song is beautiful.

The world is hungry for beauty – not a Photoshopped version of what is perceived to be beautiful, but the raw, unfiltered and authentic.

καλός: beauty that inspires that same good in the beholder. They walk away, never the same.

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 into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. 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.

C.S. Lewis

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