<< HUMAN BEAUTY : ITS ORIGIN AND NATURE >>
AND THE MEANS OF ACQUIRING IT.
Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. —Psalm xcvi. 6.
STRENGTH and beauty are the two essential elements of a noble manhood and of a beautiful womanhood. They are combined in man and woman in different proportions. Man has more of strength, woman more of beauty. But all true manhood has its beauty, and all genuine womanhood its strength. Rough, naked strength has no comeliness, and weakness no beauty. But combined in due proportion and modified by each other, they become the charm of character and the cause of that attraction which draws human beings together and makes them a delight to each other.
These two primary qualities of all human excellence, strength and beauty, are in the Lord’s sanctuary. His sanctuary is in man’s will and understanding, and derivatively in his affections and thoughts. The will and the understanding are the grand temple in which the Lord dwells ; the affections and thoughts the chapels of various form and use in which the precious gifts of strength and beauty are received from Him and appropriated by man. When the sanctuary is pure, free from evil lusts and false principles, life from the Lord is received in its own perfect forms, in all its purity, sweetness, and harmony, and then it becomes ”the beauty of holiness,” in which we are to praise and worship the Lord. This beauty of holiness becomes “the dew of youth,” an influence which gives the freshness, the innocence, and the beauty of youth to all the faculties of the mind, and to the forms of that body which we are to inhabit forever. Zion, which is called by the Lord Himself ” the perfection of beauty, ” represents in general the same principles in man as “sanctuary.” Zion is man’s heart, Jerusalem his understanding ; and it is this Zion, the perfection of beauty, which the Lord exhorts to awake, to shake herself from the dust, and to put on her beautiful garments. Here, then, we have the source of human beauty revealed to us, and the way of access to it pointed out. Its well-spring is in the heart, in the affections. It takes on its forms and colors in the understanding, and comes out in substantial reality in bodily forms and actions. Beauty in its highest qualities is represented as attainable, and we are exhorted to make it our own, to put it on as a garment, to pray that ” the beauty of the Lord our God” may be upon us.
The beauty of the Lord, the supreme and infinite type of all beauty, has its origin in His Divine love, and its form and qualities in the Divine wisdom. Man was created in the image and likeness of God. He was made to be a sharer of the supreme beauty. The Lord is in the constant effort to endow us with this beauty, and we are clothed with it in the degree that we become partakers of those Divine qualities which are the essence and cause of beauty.
Regard beauty, of which we propose to speak at the present time, in any sense you please, in its lowest and most sensuous, or its highest and most interior qualities ; beauty of form, or color, or motion,—in all cases it is the expression of some affection or interior grace. All beauty is spiritual in its origin. The beauty of a material object consists in its meaning, in what it says to us of something more excellent than itself. The beauty of a flower, of a tree, of a winding stream, or of a landscape consists in what it suggests to us of something higher than itself, because it is the form of that higher quality. The beauty of the material world is an effect which expresses the excellence of its spiritual cause.
This must be so from the very nature of the relation between cause and effect. Every cause seeks to reproduce and express itself, in all its qualities, in lower forms. Innocence, purity, and loveliness of character must tend to express themselves in lovely forms. When we reflect that the material universe is the embodiment of the Divine love and wisdom in material substances, we can see why it is that there is so much beauty in the world. Every material object and living thing has a beauty of some kind. Even the weeds that cumber the fields, the thorn and the thistle, which men regard as a curse for sin, the insect which stings and poisons us, the degraded reptile, and the wild beast which tears and devours, have some beauty of form or structure or color or motion. Perverted forms as they are of the Divine loveliness, they still bear some trace of its impress.
If we find traces of the beauty of the Lord in the lowest things, we may expect to find it more fully embodied in the highest, and our expectations will not be disappointed. We shall find it in its perfection in the human face and form. Here also we can see how the outward beauty is the effect and expression of inward and spiritual beauty. This would follow as a necessary result from the fact that the material body is cast into the mould of the spirit. The spirit has fashioned it. The spirit is the potter, and the body is clay in its hands, which it is constantly acting upon to mould into its own likeness. This is true of the material body in the first years of our existence, and of the spiritual body in every stage of our being. There are, in general, two kinds of human beauty : beauty in its essence or cause, and beauty in its expression. All beauty has its origin in love and its expression in truth. A pure and innocent affection in the will, united with genuine truth in the understanding, cannot fail of producing beautiful effects.
We must not forget that love and truth are not abstractions. They are the most potent forces that act upon the spiritual or the material body. We are penetrated by them ; we live and move and have our being in them. The material body is constantly subject to their action, has its life from them. There is a force constantly present in water, and in all matter, which forms it into spheres when the matter assumes a fluid state and is left free to move. So there is in the very nature and activities of the Divine love and the Divine truth, from which we receive all our life, a tendency to the human form and an active influence to make that form as noble and beautiful as possible. Thus those very forces and principles which are the essence and cause of all beauty are constantly acting upon us to make our faces and forms and motions the complete correspondents and embodiments of their nature. Thus the Divine forces which give us life tend to mould us into every form of beauty, in thesame way and according to the same immutable law by which the Divine forces in nature tend to make material forms beautiful. All that we have to do to become more and more beautiful is to co-operate with these forces, to let them have free play through us, and to supply them with the right kind of materials for their workmanship. The first thing we are to do is to exercise pure, innocent, heavenly affections. Without this it is impossible to become more beautiful than we are, or to retain what we may have received from hereditary influences. The beauty of youth, of mere surface and complexion, will fade like a flower. There must be some inherent, vital, and unfailing source which supplies natural wastes with finer and more substantial substances, and replenishes them with perennial freshness and moulds them into a lovelier beauty. The quality and degree of our beauty and nobleness of form will be determined by the quality and degree of our spiritual affections. There is no possibility of failure in this respect. They are orderly results of normal causes. Every affection you cherish leaves its impress upon you. It tends to fashion the external form into its likeness, and there is no escape from its effect. This is a truth of common observation and experience. We see it in its accumulated and large results, in the faces and forms of every man and woman we meet.
Every disposition habitually indulged forms its image in the features of the face, in the motions of the body, and in every fibre and muscle of its form. Its first effect is upon the brain, and through that upon every part of the whole organization. The face is the index of the mind, because the mind forms it and makes it the theatre on which it enacts all its passions. Every face is a history, and in its small compass are recorded the sins and sorrows, the joys and fears, the malignities, the lusts, the cunning, the ferocity, the hope and trust, the struggles with evil passions, the integrity, the innocence and peace of many generations. We can only read some of the most prominent and boldest characters. But the history, of all the influences, large and small, which have combined to form the character of your ancestry from its beginning is embodied in your own person. We talk of fleeting influences. There are no fleeting influences.
Every influence is eternal. The Lord does not write human history in fading colors and on perishable leaves. You think you can be false or cunning, that you can indulge in malignities and lusts, and no one will know it, and that you can escape all lasting eflects of it. How much, how terribly much, you are mistaken ! You cannot sulk in the corner ; you cannot indulge in an unkind thought ; you cannot say a sharp word ; you cannot indulge in a revengeful feeling ; no, you cannot think a false thought, or do an evil deed, and escape the record of its shame in the book of your own life. The Lord has made the mind self-registering. Every falsity leaves a shadow upon it, every evil a stain. I know the influence of one evil once indulged may be small ; its consequences may seem as fleeting as the act itself. But it is not so. The brutality and ferocity and stolidity and meanness, the low cunning and worldly shrewdness, the stony selfishness and cruel malignities, the pride and vanities and contempt which we see in the forms and faces of men and women are the recorded results of the indulgence of evils which were momentary and casual in their inception.
My young friends, will you not remember this when you are tempted to think falsely, to feel wickedly, or to act sinfully ? The wicked feeling has its sharp graver in its cunning hands, and while you indulge the feeling it is etching its ugly lines in your face and twisting your features into its own form. The impure thought is photographing itself upon the delicate but tenacious forms of your whole nature, and leaving its foul stains indelibly impressed upon you. If every time you told or looked a falsehood, or indulged a hate, the name of the evil should come out in distinct and black lines upon your forehead and repeat itself in ugly characters in your whole face, with what horror you would shun it ! It is so written, in very faint lines at first, it may be, but every repetition of the evil increases their distinctness. The angels can read the whole history in the hand ; they can tell the quality of the mind by the tone of the voice. According to the same law, every good affection and true thought registers itself in its own proper characters. Every heavenly affection leaves its impress upon you and, to the extent of its influence, moulds you into its own image. Every element of the noblest and purest beauty is contained in the principles of goodness and truth. As these principles are brought into act and become substantiated in the form and features, they change them into their own likeness. And they do it by imperceptible but constantly acting influences. When you think kindly of others and your heart goes out to them in desires for their good, the beauty of kindness is winning its way through the labyrinth of many organic forms, leaving its smile and its impress upon them all as it passes, until it comes out in open expression upon the face.
Some faces are like landscapes in a day of broken clouds. Sometimes the shadows lie dark and heavy upon them. When the features are in repose you can see the history of former generations which has been stereotyped upon them ; the weariness of protracted labor, shadows of disappointed hopes, and the sadness of many sorrows. But when the light of an awakened heavenly affection breaks through their parting folds the face becomes illuminated, transfigured with the glory of the inward light. You can look away into its serene deeps and see in every feature a beauty born of heavenly influences.
Patience in duty and trust in the Lord contain important elements of beauty, which they impart to the face and to the whole form. They give quietness and composure to the features and to the actions. Through the face, as through a transparent veil, you can look down into the serene depths of being, where no storms can reach, where all is stable and in repose, and see the foundations on which the natural life rests and the perennial springs from which its thoughts and affections flow. Every time you repress an impatient desire, every time you restrain an impatient word or act, every time you take up the burden of duty cheerfully, every time you meet the conflicts and the vicissitudes of life in patient confidence in the infinite goodness which makes all things work together for good for those who trust in the Lord, you make some progress in bringing your whole form into the image of that repose and quietude which impart a charm to every feature and every action.
But the supreme beauty which charms all hearts is innocence, purity. This is the charm of the beauty of infancy and childhood. It is not beauty of form ; it is not grace of motion. It is the purity and sweetness of heaven which shine through a little child. The material body is, as it were, transparent. It is like the charm of flowers, which is not so much in their forms as in their delicacy of texture and purity of color and sweetness of fragrance. They awaken the perception that they are offering up themselves for our delight.
Innocence combines all the Christian graces,—unselfishness, trust, repose, unconscious action, which is always beautiful, gentleness, devotion to others, and devout adoration of the Lord ; that worship of the heart which surrenders itself to the Divine will, to be guided by its wisdom and to be moulded into its likeness. Innocence is not weakness or ignorance. It is wisdom and power itself It is power without noise. It is the power which makes the grass grow, and planets fly through the silent spaces with ceaseless motion. It is the wisdom which uses the mightiest forces for human help and culture. It is supreme order, which is always beautiful. Feebleness is not beauty. Strength and beauty must go hand in hand, as they always do when the strength is used for beneficent purposes.
While you are in the effort to keep the great commandment of love to the Lord, and just to the extent that you keep it, you will be gaining the heavenly beauty. You open your heart to the Lord, and to the living springs of all grace and comeliness. You put yourself into His hands who has the perfect ideal of nobleness and beauty, and perfect skill to fashion every feature and form according to it. The Divine truth, which is the Holy Spirit, contains in its substance and in all its forces and forms and influence a tendency to ultimate itself in the perfection of beauty. As you open your affections to the influence of these Divine forces they will flow in and do their work. They will efface the lines of deformity which sin has engraved ; they will harmonize discordant proportions ; they will round into fulness imperfect forms ; they will reduce to order conflicting motions, and bring the whole person into unity.
Every effort you make to learn the truths which constitute the Divine wisdom, and to incorporate them into your nature, will have its effect. While you are reflecting upon them they are imbuing your understanding with their sweet and lovely spirit, softening its hardness, quickening its perceptions, harmonizing its activities. The soft and lambent light of truth is flowing down with more fulness and clearness into the eyes, and a power which attracts and makes the heart glad begins to beam forth from them. As you go on with the work and receive more largely of this informing life and beautifying spirit, it softens the hardness and smooths the roughness of the voice, and imbues it with those qualities which touch the sympathies and win the heart ; it penetrates every feature, remoulds the face after the heavenly pattern, rounds the limbs, gives nobleness and comely dignity to the whole form, and sways every motion to harmony born of an inward grace, and expressing it. As the life of the Divine love becomes fuller and purer the whole person will become the very form of heavenly love ; it will become the embodiment of Zion, the perfection of beauty.- This is no fancy. Your own observation can teach you that it is not. You know how fierce passions inflame and distort the face, and how heavenly affections fill it with a serene light and a most winning loveliness. You have seen faces that were not regular and cleanly cut in particular features, but which had an inward beauty that charmed every beholder. All that is necessary to render any form of the face fixed and permanent is to cherish the affections which express themselves in that form.
It may be replied that, if this principle is true, the good must be the most beautiful. Yet some of the worst men and women have been famous for their beauty. There is a kind of external beauty, regularity of features, symmetry of form, delicacy of complexion, which is due to inheritance and to causes not within one’s self; but if the soul is deformed with evil this superficial beauty is but a veil which ill conceals the ugliness within. Without the beauty of expression which shines forth from the soul the most that the body can attain is the lifeless beauty of the statue or the painted mask.
Again, while it is true that the material body is so intimately allied to the spiritual that it becomes changed by it, making the face the index of the mind, the physical form may respond but slowly to the changes of the spirit; so much so that a face that is outwardly fair may conceal an infernal character ; and again a plain and unattractive face may clothe a heavenly spirit. Our spiritual bodies, the bodies in which we are to live and by which we are to be identified forever, are the exact forms of our affections. They change easily, and become the perfect exponent and image of the affections we habitually cherish. The purer and more interior the affection, and the more fully it becomes united with genuine truths, the more beautiful we shall become. It is, therefore, in the power of every one to become as beautiful and noble in form as he chooses ; and the way to do it is to cultivate those heavenly affections which mould the face and limbs and every part of the body into forms corresponding to their quality. Such is the nature of the affections that there is no assignable limit to their strength and excellence, beyond which they cannot pass. You see what a prospect this holds out for our attainment in personal beauty and nobleness of form. You can see that what Swedenborg says of the beauty of the angels must be true, because it follows from causes which we see in operation here. He says their beauty surpasses the power of words to describe or of any human art to portray. Their faces are so glorious and lovely, and shine with such a heavenly light, that they penetrate the hearts of those who behold them, with enchanting power. They are the very forms of loveliness. They are purity and innocence itself. The eyes of the angels are aflame with heavenly love ; their faces are all aglow with its warmth ; their features are moulded into its nobleness and rounded into its harmonies ; its dignity is enthroned in their foreheads ; its sweetness is folded in their lips, and its gracefulness sways every motion. The voice is so modulated by heavenly affections that it is felt to be the sweetness and power of love itself speaking. The whole form is the embodiment of a benign power, and radiant with the very life of heaven.
All the faculties are in the freshness and vigor and resplendent comeliness of their spring-time ; they grow as the lily and blossom as the rose. All these elements of loveliness continue to unfold into more excellent forms. It is not the glorious beauty of a fading flower. It continues to increase ; it glows with a serener light ; it becomes the more complete and varied embodiment of a holier joy, a purer love, and a sweeter peace. Its perfections must continue to increase to eternity.
All the qualities and forms of beauty are in heavenly love, as all germs are in their seed. You have only to cherish and cultivate them, which is to exercise them in love towards the Lord and towards man. You have only to live the life of them, and you will grow into their appropriate forms, with more certainty than the seed grows into the loveliness of the lily, or the acorn into the grandeur of the oak.
Why is not this an excellence and a glory worthy of our thought and effort ? If physical beauty, which fades and perishes so soon, lay within as easy reach as heavenly beauty, which is fresh, perennial, and which will continue to increase in perfection forever, we should all strive for it ; multitudes would think no price too great to pay for it.
We are becoming forms of heavenly beauty or of infernal deformity every day. Whether we seek it or not, every affection we exercise has its influence in moulding our form ; every truth we learn enters into its composition ; every thought we think and every good deed we do is the graver’s tool which gives a new line of beauty, or the painter’s brush which adds a lovelier tint. Yes, every gentle act leaves its gentleness in the hand that performs it ; every noble deed leaves the imprint of its nobility ; every heavenly purpose carried into effect communicates its fragrance and beauty as a Divine benediction to the soul. Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.
Author: Chauncey Giles, From Progress in Spiritual Knowledge, 1895