5 Levels of Beauty — A Different Approach to talking about Sex
Beauty is the glory of the body. Yet there are many ways of perceiving it and too often we fail to grasp those kinds of beauty that lies as treasures buried deeper within. Using a purely moralistic approach when dealing with body has the benefit of being clear and relatively easy to follow (do this, don’t do this); however, it fails to grasp the enormous degree of ambiguity, of lights and shadows, that our carnal existence manifests to us day in and day out. Any good apostle thus needs a variety of approachs in order to guide others to healthy, Christian living.
Far from prohibiting or despising the body, Christianity is an intrinsically carnal, fleshy way of existence. Never forget: the resurrected Christ comes to us in a glorified body that still bears the wounds of his crucifixion. The human being is never to be reduced to his or her body, yet speaking as if we “have a body” isn’t enough. In many senses, we are our body. More than a platform that is to be abandoned that all possible speed, our happiness, our fulfillment and our salvation necessarily pass through our body, allowing it to be transfigured by Christ’s transforming love.
This said, Christians dare to affirm that the sexual encounter is not the culmination of beauty in our relationships. It is undoubtedly good and beautiful, but if we reduce beauty and love to such a moment we are surely lost. So today I would like to offer a few thoughts on 5 types of beauty, each one deeper than the other. My proposal is that our and our eyes were made for beauty, but for types that go much deeper than the sexualised verisons that we typically see in advertising. Offering others, and especially the youth, a positive path of beauty in which sexual beauty is included, yet understood in a greater context, it is important apostolate in our time. These thoughts are based on Xavier Lacroixs, Il corpo e lo spirito.
Plastic Beauty (Image)
Here we gaze upon the simple harmony of formes and volume. The level of pleasure and attraction that it generates will depend on personality, history and cultural background. For women, for example, a luminous, unblemished complexion and things like large eyes, a small nose and fuller lips might be all considered traits of a beauty face. Such beauty is most certainly worthy of being appreciated and it is an important, enchanting part of our lives.
Some say that such traits (symmetry, luminosity, etc.) to be beautiful in that they relay biological signals of health and fertility. Unfortunately, beauty and life, in many respets, have been divorced today. While true beauty not only attracts but also transforms the admirer (thus a man who falls in love becomes a husband and father, thus a giver and not only a receiver), today we make great strides to gorge ourselves in this attraction, while abbandoning any and all transformation (pornography, no-risk relationships, etc).
That said, this kind of beauty is quite similar to the kind of beauty that we find in an object of art, a statue perhaps. It is a beauty that is almost anonymous (a beauty that is indipent of a who), storyless, something ephimeral that is quickly generated with the passing of Photoshop brush or the scapel of a plastic surgeon.
Sensible grace of Expression (Image: Henri Matisse)
Something different appears when we gaze upon the face in a different way. The face is, above all, manifestation, revelation. It is something that we receive. More than the manifestation, however, we receive the expression. Put simply, here we are not perceiving an object, rather a subject.
The sensible beauty here lies in the ability to express. Some are more expressive than others. Why? Very difficult to know. That gift known as charism, that simple joy of living that irradiates intelligence, humor, lightness, agility and which exercises an almost gravational pull on others is ungraspable and mysterious.
Certainly face are simply “blessed” and others cannot help but appreciate such charm. Still, sometimes it is this charm alone that is beatuiful and basing a relatinship on such foundations alone can bring about tragic consecuences.
Irradiation of a presence (Image)
Continuing along our path towards the depth of beauty, we reach a mode of beauty that goes beyond any kind of pleasurable, plastic beauty or even the sensibilby graceful kind. Here, the admirer’s gaze goes beyond (without, of course, despising) the form and the charm in order to grasp a kind of event in which a presence is manifested.
Perhaps the symetry is lacking and wrinkles abbound. Perhaps the expression is reserved and timid. It matters little. . Here the gaze falls upon a person, a living presence, full of dignity and mysterious that lies in front of us. Certain presences appear to be more luminous, others more obscure. Nevertheless, here we perceive the beauty of a subject, of a person, of a story. Wrinkles aren’t to be abolished, rather celebrated and narrated. Asymmetry becomes beauty because it is her asymmetry, her story, the beauty she, that woman that stands before me.
Hidden glory (Image)
Sometimes a presence can be hidden, veiled behind not only a lack of symmetry rather by the presence of disfiguration. Certain faces reveal scars, deformations, tumors… perhaps the passed through the hell of war, or the claws of violence. Perhaps they suffered the simple misfortune of being born as such.
A banal and habitual gaze might feel repugnance, aversion, distaste. Those who suffer the miope of superificailty will never discover the glory present here. Those who can’t see it have never listen to the Little Prince when he said: “Here is my secret. It is very simple. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly ; What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
There are those, however, that, filled with certian exuberance that can only come from the spiritual life, embrace this glory. It is the glory of being unique, absolutely unique. It is the glory of being made in the image and likeness of God. It is a glory whose light shines even more stronger because it is hidden to the eyes of most. It is a secret glory, a mysterious beauty, like that of Christ’s beaten face on the cross.
Transfigured Face (Image)
The final beauty presented by Lacroix is that of a secret glory that becomes sensible. The occasions a rare and holy. One can’t help but think of Moses when the “skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him” (Ex 34:30). Or Christ, before his apostles, when “his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light” (Matthew 17:2).
Here, we are speaking of an almost divine beauty as we find in 2 Cor 3, 18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another.”
While rare, it is not necesasrily impossibly to see this kind of a beauty. Have you never witness a certian kind of luminosity in the face of some? It is that sort of glowing joy emitted by an old monk, or by the young sister who has just taken her vows, or by a mother who has just given birth to her newborn child.
It is a gift to perceive this kind of beauty, but it is also the horizon of each one of our Christina lives. In fact, in one sense, the universal invitation to do apostolate, to share Christ’s message means that each one of us is called to transmit this kind of beauty to others.