My husband was willing to write a guest post on men and beauty..it's something we've talked about often. I hope you appreciate his perspective as much as I do!
There’s a mens conference coming up this month in Portland. I seriously debated going but not only is it a bit out of my price range, the discussion about “true masculinity” or “authentic manhood” or “men coming together as men” (an actual quote from the radio spot touting said conference) is beginning to bore me. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a worthwhile topic (depending on how you phrase it) but its gotten to the point where the same things are said over and over again. Blogs, radio shows, books, articles - all of them seem to have the same theory about men; we need to be challenged, we need adventure, we need permission to be real men. Sports and business-oriented analogies abound, exhortations are given to call each other on and fight the dragon and fellowship (yes, as a verb), and after a few self-gender-deprecating jokes about not being able to multi-task (like women) or fix things around the house (for women) or being a practice round for God’s masterpiece (women) we are sent off, refreshed and ready to face the world of man-haters. And I find myself appalled at the complete lack of substance. Because there’s one thing I’ve never heard mentioned in all the talks on masculinity or read about in any of the articles on manhood; and that thing is Beauty. Sure, there’s the whole “a beauty worth fighting for” concept where apparently my whole worth as a person is reduced to how well I defend someone else (not to mention what this says about her), and I seem to recall being told over and over again how lucky I should feel that such a dazzling and beautiful creature as woman should ever deign to look at the clod-hopping, troglodytic, dunce that is me. But never once have I heard someone mention the presence and importance of beauty in a man’s life apart from woman; as an aspect of his life that is not dependent on someone else but rather exists within and around him, and calls him up into itself to find God.
The whole concept that a man might not only respond to beauty and wish to create beauty but actually be beautiful is apparently uncomfortable for the average American Catholic male. Or at least the ones in a position to talk about such things from a public platform. But why should that be? How is it such a leap from saying that God created a the heavens as beautiful, created the world as beautiful, created the plants and animals as beautiful, and created woman as beautiful to saying that man must also (as a part of that creation) be beautiful? It would seem the height of egoism to state that he was created outside of all this beauty, to be the only thing in God’s mind that is both good but ugly and that everything beautiful was made so that he could enjoy it without being a part of it. God Himself is beautiful, how can man, made in His image and likeness, not be? Yes, it is true that God is also a warrior, a priest, a lion, a thief in the night (we’re going to leave the mother hen image aside for right now but trust me, I’m aware of it). But one thing He is not is compartmentalized. So while men are called to be brave, holy, fierce, and cunning we are also called to be icons, windows of His grace and beauty to the world.
And speaking of icons - how is it that the only masculine activities I hear mentioned by the experts are “active” in every sense of the word: football (soccer apparently being too cordial, rugby too European), hunting, fishing, hiking, and the ultimate, whitewater rafting. But never music, dance, art, literature, drama, or any of the more “refined” subjects. Mechanics are manly, painters are not. We’re reminded how much Blessed Pope John Paul II enjoyed skiing and celebrating Mass on mountaintops, not so advertised is his philosophy of acting or his letter to artists (which, contrary to popular man-opinion, is not the same as Mulieris dignitatum). We appreciate the magnificence and majesty of Church architecture and art but never look to the artists themselves - Bernini, Michaelangelo, Raphael, El Greco, Andrei Rublev, and hosts of other men have contributed untold riches to the world of aesthetics, it is difficult to comprehend how they could all be somehow inferior to a kick-boxing champion or NBA player just because they dedicated their lives to art instead of sports. Mozart, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Haydn, Bach, Evelyn Waugh (yes,a guy), Francis Thompson, St. Luke, St. Augustine, Giotto, Claude McKay, Baryshnikov, … it’s not that every man on this list is somehow the perfect epitome of masculinity (or virtue) but that they were all men giving their lives to the pursuit of beauty. And I think one would be hard-pressed to say that any failings in their lives were somehow linked to their endeavors and that if only they had become CEOs or wildlife rangers all would have been well.
King David sang, played the lyre, danced for God, and was described as a ruddy and handsome youth. He also slew Goliath and ruled a nation. He wrote the psalms. He massacred the Philistines. He fell and repented and prayed and was forgiven. He clearly had a sensitivity to beauty and it’s importance to our existence. And from his line came the Christ, the Savior, God-made-Man. Truly, in the words of Fyodor Dostoevsky, “beauty will save the world.”