“Walking in beauty” is a Navajo phrase that symbolizes a cosmically attuned and responsible way of life. Coping with hardship or gathering in celebration, our fulfillment comes as part of nature, through the arts, with others in society, and in relationship to the divine. At its best, every culture in its particular beliefs and practices realizes universal values.
Walking in beauty symbolizes for me a facet of living divinely. Truth places an accent upon thinking, beauty upon feeling, and goodness on doing. The three are intertwined, and none of them can be achieved in isolation from the others.
I will never forget a class on aesthetics in which I was struggling to get across the concept of the beauty of truth. They were an unusually strong group in their intelligence and sincere motivation, and for a couple days, I tried my best to make the concept clear, and they tried their best to understand. Tension was building. And then I came into class with a new approach. I asked whether they had ever found some truth while studying science and thought, “This is cool” or “Awesome.” People nodded. They were all with me. And then I said, “That’s what I’m talking about. That’s the beauty of truth!” Immediately I saw forty people with smiles on their faces, relief in their bodies, and joy coursing through their souls. I might have gone on to state that they had just achieved insight into a truth of philosophy, and that their joy in that discovery was a response to the beauty of that truth. But in that moment, the main point was about language, interpretation, and communication. The words we choose matter little. What counts is experience and insight.
I use an expanded concept of beauty (and the same for truth and goodness). In the history of the West, beauty came to be identified with a particular style in painting and other arts. That style went out of fashion, and then it became fashionable to denounce beauty. But the expanded concept of beauty embraces every aesthetic excellence, from the humorous to the sublime. The traditional theme of harmony of contrasts remains productive, but the kinds of contrasts and harmonies are not stereotyped.
Neither are emotions crystallized. I speak of joy as the response to the recognition of beauty; but the concept of joy must also expand to correlate with the concept of beauty. Joy may grace a time of peaceful solitude or an energetic social event.
The wide freedom implied by the expanded concepts of beauty and joy does not mean that everything is beautiful. Something things are ugly. When selfish impulses and material urges motivate people to deceive and manipulate other persons, what they do is ugly, regardless of their celebrity, commercial success, or political power. Rebellion against the spirit of the Creator is ugly, regardless of the individual’s talent or technical skill.
Beauty is first and foremost a quality of divinity. Whenever we recognize a truth in its fullness, we experience its beauty; and whenever we are inspired by genuine goodness, we are responding to its beauty. We find beauty in nature and the arts. And there is a way of living it, walking in beauty. It is a partly matter of sensitivity to the beauty around us and within us. It also includes our soulful response to situations where sense a lack of beauty and find it timely to do something about it. We walk in beauty by our attitude to the cosmos, embracing the universe as ultimately friendly; by recognizing when our emotions are unbeautiful and doing what is needed to cooperate in transforming them; by doing things to add beauty to others’ lives; and by rejoicing in the beauty of the goodness of the truth of God, the universal Father of the universal family.