“If you love a flower, don’t pick it up.
Because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love.
So if you love a flower, let it be.
Love is not about possession.”
There is much beauty in this world. There is much that pleases the eye and excites the spirit. Sadly, our hearts have not been kind to beauty in this world. Be it wondrous beasts hunted to extinction so we may mount their vestiges on our walls or stuffed in our hallways. Be it women who learn to see themselves as trophies or commodities with no value but the youth they fight to hold onto. Possession is the enemy of beauty, and it is the heart of lust.
The Destructive Force of Possession
Greed, gluttony, lust, and jealousy all share a common thread. We believe in our hearts of darkness and fear that we only benefit from what we own. That unless we control a thing, it has no value. Because of this darkness, we turn beauty into evil by needing to possess what we see as beautiful. This core instinct exposes both our destructive passions, and our true feelings toward each other. Where there is greed, envy, and lust, there is not love for others. After all, if we loved others, we would not wish to possess all beauty unto ourselves.
Beauty thrives when tended. A flower blooms under the gardener’s care, but wilts when plucked from the earth for “gifting.” When we have a need to own something beautiful we limit it, cage it, repress it, and torment it. When we serve and tend beauty it thrives. When we possess beauty, we also begin to lose appreciation for it. What was once novel and exciting to many, is now typical and monotonous to us.
The Illusion of Sexual Desire
"Celibacy is not just a matter of not having sex. It is a way of admiring a person for their humanity, maybe their beauty."
The most common applied understand of “lust” relates to sexuality. Christians often mistakenly apply the term “lust” to both love of beauty, and desire for possession. This is unfortunate as it creates a frustrated oppression of the spirit by imposing upon themselves the obligation to eliminate both at the same time. This is not right, and it is harmful. Instead Christians should learn to separate the two, appreciating beauty freely and prayerfully eliminating the desire for possession.
Sexual desire and physical beauty are not tied together. To find a person beautiful does not mean you wish to possess them. Many sexual addictions form in people who have been raised to think both are the same, and then feel helpless to control themselves. Beauty and sex are not only separate, but often never have anything to do with each other. Beauty does not guarantee arousal, and arousal does not need beauty. We have falsely connected these in our own culture.
To seek sexual interaction with a person because of physical beauty alone means you do not value that person, only wish to “possess” something they have. To be in love and value a person means beauty is not needed to be intimate. I am afraid this topic could lead to a much longer article or a book or two. So for now, I simply wish to point out that beauty needs to be reclaimed and understood as apart from sexuality and possession.
It is Not Detachment We Need, but Connectedness
Although I am including the beauty of the human body in this discussion of lust, I am also speaking of material and ascetic beauty. We crave beauty around us. It is why we have a fashion industry. It is why we value beautiful gems and jewelry. It is why we have indoor plants. It is why we buy paintings, sculptures, and keepsakes for our homes.
Many religions have identified our desire to possess as harmful. Buddhism, Zen, and Hindi all have teachings on learning to detach ourselves from desire to avoid pain. However, even that can be selfish. To avoid desire for the sake of avoiding pain is still self-focused. We are not called by Christ to avoid desire, but to seek inter-connectedness and abundance. We should desire to have beauty in our world, but desire to have beauty for all.
When a man envies the wife of another, he is saying the other man is not worthy or of value. When we envy a car, a garden, or a house of our neighbor, we are saying the neighbor is not worthy or of value. The heart of lust is that we devalue others and consider only ourselves worthwhile. Only when we seek the benefit of others, does our lust and greed begin to wane. When our hearts are pure, we do not need to detach from the world, but seek its beauty for the benefit of others.
A Beautiful World
If our hearts were pure, we would rejoice in beauty which both benefits us as well as beauty which benefits others. After all, we do all need beauty in our lives. If our surroundings do not have beauty, it is hard for us not to be discouraged. When our surroundings are beautiful, we are more likely to feel at peace. This is a natural and pure mechanic of being human. However, it us who pervert this need by looking at beauty through the eyes of individual possession and not as a community.
Of course “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and when our hearts are not dark, we see more beauty in the world around us. Beauty is both an ascetic and a product of harmony and inspiration. Beauty, like love, is a resource needed by our souls which we begin life thinking of as scarce and try to control out of fear. As we grow in Christ, we learn they are infinite in source when given instead of taken.
- When was the last time you saw something “beautiful” or “cool” that you bought to keep in your home? Do you still look at it the same way as when you bought it? How much dust is on it?
- When was the last time your heart felt jealous for something which someone else had? Think about what you feel toward the person, instead of the object. Do you value that person?
- What in your neighborhood or community has become worn, untended, or neglected? What if you sought to bring beauty to things many people can enjoy instead of just your own home or room?