I have just finished reading Tim Winton’s latest book “Breath“. The book is a coming of age tale with unsurprisingly, a strong theme of breathing and its association with the strangely entwined experience of both seeking to feel truly alive and soliciting death. A lesser theme that resonates in the background as consistently as the rumbling of the sea venerated by the book’s narrator is the notion of something being pointless but beautiful. Winton raises the idea that there is little room in our culture for men to engage in something that is pointless but beautiful. That apparently, is the domain of women. Except for the relationship between men and surfing. Winton’s romantic descriptions of the sheer exhilaration and beauty of catching a wave are enticing. There is something entirely wondrous and magical about being in a wild sea with the sun dancing on glossy waves. Not to mention the thrill of inter-mingled danger and beauty. I love being out in the sea with my surfboard. I can’t say I love surfing, for I would not call my messy relationship with waves and fiberglass surfing. However, I don’t think proficiency is required to understand Winton’s interest in pointless beauty. Oddly, I sense God’s presence deeply when I am being tossed about in the ocean. A strange sense of both smallness and bigness.
I agree with Winton – our culture doesn’t mind a little shallow surface beauty for both men and women – the lifeblood of the fashion industry. But beauty that invades the soul is another thing altogether. I think that this is part of what it is to be human. And maybe, it is part of what it is to reflect God. I am not saying that God is pointless but beautiful”, but to say all that God is and does (as far as we can grasp this) is all about function, achievement and outcome driven purpose seems empty. One only needs to spend a little time in nature to witness beauty that is perhaps beautiful simply for the sake of the pleasure of the beholder.
I wonder if there would be less angst in our culture, greater depth to our spirituality, and more complete expressions of man and womanhood if we allowed room for pointless beauty. Get out your surfboards, paintbrushes, guitars or walking shoes. Whatever it is that gives you glimpses of beauty.