The Liminal Space of BEAUTY ~ Cindy Elliott

 

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Life is such a beautiful paradox.
There is no intimacy without mystery.
There is nothing to be valued if everything lies in your hands.
There is no knowledge until you loosen your grasp.
And there is no beauty until beauty conceals herself. [1]
~ Tzvi Freeman

True beauty is like a sublime breath of Heaven; like a burst of crisp, clean, thin mountain air that leaves one new to this elevated height breathless. It awakens the soul and overwhelms our entire being. It is what Tzvi Freeman calls, “A window on infinity.” It is only fully appreciated, fully seen, and fully experienced through surrender. And when you do surrender, this beauty moves you into a new space of belonging.

Beauty contains an element of the eternal. Rabbi Sholom Dovber wrote that beauty is, …“the essence of the Infinite Light extended into creation.” [2]  Think of a wondrous landscape – one that overwhelms and stills your heart, brings quiet to your thoughts and wraps your soul with belonging. That – is – beauty.

An act of kindness, the laughter of a child, a much needed hug, the unconditional love of a parent, tears, innocence, music that overwhelms your soul, the wonder of birth, a homecoming… all issue forth the fragrance of beauty. And our own simple acts of beauty – of loving kindness and compassion – they have infinite potential for releasing wellsprings of healing and creating a new space of life and belonging for others. 

Beauty surprises, at times turning shadow into day – darkness into light. It can be realized in both birth and death; more often in imperfection than perfection; as much in grief as in joy. How can death emanate a fragrance of beauty? Or grief be filled with its essence?
Can the imperfect really be more beautiful than the perfect? Maybe dark beauty, that which seems to form from the shadows, is an opportunity for faithfulness to transcend seemingly irreconcilable tensions. Maybe it is as Hermann Broch says, “The sadness and despair of beauty laid bare.” When first wounded we do tend to pull inside ourselves, to hide – and we do need a time to let the sting calm down. But there comes a  time for healing. A time to bring our hurts and wounds out of the darkness and into the light. 

You are altogether beautiful, my love; and there is no blemish in you.
Song of Solomon 4:7

The other day I was wandering along the shore collecting shells, rocks, and sticks – treasures for future creations. Each touch would stir thoughts of possiblities. I was surprised when I realized that the broken pieces called out the loudest to me. In my mixed media I love to use natural material – and it is the fractured pieces that are the most precious to me in my creating. The imperfections, the blemishes – these are really what add a depth and interest to my work. This brings to mind the first tablets, etched by the finger of G-d, broken but held precious and placed next to the second set in the holy Ark. Brokenness and wholeness – side by side in the Holy of Holies. Rabbi Eliyahu de Vidas (16th century) taught that the Ark is a symbol of the human heart – brokenness and wholeness – side by side.

Leviticus 11:33 tells us that an earthen vessel that becomes tamei (impure) must be broken. Mishnah Kelim 2:1 explains:

Vessels of wood, vessels of leather, vessels of bone or vessels of glass that are flat are clean. And those that form a receptacle are unclean. If they were broken they become clean again. If one remade them into vessels they are susceptible to uncleanness henceforth. [However] when broken they become clean.

We are beings of the earth, vessels of clay. And we all are broken. Each and every one of us has a crack or two. Leonard Cohen wrote, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Infinite Light extended into His creation.

art of the preicous

Rabbi Erica Asch tells us the story [4] of Ashikaga Yoshimasa:

In the 15th century in Japan, military commander Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke one of his beautiful Chinese tea bowls. He sent it back to China for repairs. Disappointed with the shoddy repair job, some say it was put together with metal staples, Yoshimasa challenged Japanese craftsmen to look for a more beautiful method of repair. The craftsmen examined the bowl and decided not to hide the cracks. Instead, they highlighted them, using gold seams to repair the broken bowl. The art of Kintsugi was born.

Kintsugi turns brokenness into art, making cracks and blemishes beautiful. It is an extension of the Japanese value of wabi-sabi, finding beauty in that which is damaged or imperfect. With this method of repair, the service of an object does not end when it is broken. Instead, the break becomes an essential – and beautiful – part of the life and story of the object. There is beauty in the brokenness.

The art of Kintsugi speaks of the beauty of living a life of authenticity. Of courage and honesty. Of openness and truth. Of the beauty of imperfection over perfection. It reflects that the deepest beauty emanates not from our outward appearance but radiates from our soul. We tend to think of brokenness as something ‘less than’ but the truth is the beauty in brokenness is one that overwhelms. Brokenness is holy and as broken vessels of clay we are each one of us infinitely precious in the eyes of our Abba.  

In Scripture the Jewish people are called Tzvaot Hashem, the army of G-d (Exodus 7:4). Tzava, army, is derived from the root Tzivyon, beauty [3] – Tzivyon Hashem, the beauty of G-d. We are indeed His greatest masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10) – formed and knitted together in our mother’s womb by the hands of our Creator (Psalm 139:13-16) and to Him we are beautiful and of priceless worth.

Abba, embrace us with your beauty. Give us eyes to see the world bathed in the infinite and to search for the latent beauty in every soul. Abba sensitize our heart to see your strokes of beauty throughout all of your creation and to never fear the beauty that forms from the shadows. Abba, surprise us and move us toward new thresholds and into an even deeper and more intimate belonging in you.
Todah rabah, thank you Abba.

 

* image from Kintugi

1. “For something to be beautiful, such as a tree, or a song, it must force you to attempt to resolve some conflict, often between order and chaos, or tension and resolution. If the conflict is an irresolvable paradox, the beauty lasts forever. And that’s the sort of beauty of which life is made.” Tzvi Freeman
2. Shared by Tzvi Freeman, Is Beauty Truth?
3. See and example of this in Isaiah 28:1, Isaiah 28:4 – beauty, desire, glory.
4. Rabbi Erica Asch, Beauty in the Brokenness

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