Here are some previous thoughts on the subject of Beauty. When you have finished on this page, click Back to look at other topics.

Anxious for approval of his work, artist Stuart Pearson Wright apparently asked Prince Philip if he had caught his likeness. “I bloody well hope not!” Philip snapped back. Mr Pearson Wright reported that it wasn’t that the session didn’t go well. “Just that his response was less than complimentary”.

Photographer, Patrick Demarchelier, on the other hand, has a reputation for “making every woman he photographs look incredibly beautiful”. It was he who turned Princess Diana from a shy young mother into a woman who came over with confidence and grace. Cherie Blair was another ofhis clients.

We all know the difference between people who look at us in such a way as to build up our confidence and those who seem somehow to undermine it. For Christians, God’s utterly affectionate, though not uncritical, way of looking at us, is an enormous boost to our confidence. We also can contribute to how others feel about themselves by our attitude to them.

Let’s today view those we meet in a way that affirms them and makes them feel positive about themselves. There’s beauty in everybody and to help it emerge makes everybody feel better.

To the dustmen of Frankfurt, they were a mess that needed to be cleared from the streets of their spotless city. The yellow plastic sheets were swiftly scooped up, crushed and burned. But the diligence of the rubbish collectors was little consolation to the city's prestigious art academy, which is now ruing the loss of an important work. Unknown to the binmen, the sheets were part of a city-wide exhibition of modern sculpture by Michael Beutler. Thirty of the dustmen are now being sent to modern art classes to try to ensure that the same mistake never happens again.

The ability to discern beauty in what otherwise looks like rubbish is worth having. Situations we’re in, people we meet, work we’re asked to do, can often initially seem worthless. We feel like sweeping them away. Closer inspection however can reveal value in the person or task or crisis.

There are no classes in how to develop the skill of spotting what’s surprisingly attractive or useful in our lives. But it is something we can practice. Perhaps today, if faced with someone or something which seems uninteresting or unpleasant, we could try looking at it with an eye for what beauty there might be in it.

Michelangelo’s David could apparently learn from Pilates. Alan Herdman, who brought the Pilates exercise technique to Britain more than thirty years ago, claims the statue’s posture is far from perfect. In a real human, it would lead, he says, to a bad back, a weak hip and ankles, and poor flexibility.

Flawed posture does lead to physical weaknesses. Other defects, in our behaviour or attitude, also emerge because we take what is a fundamentally wrong stance in life.

Failure to treat ourselves with care and love or to relate to others with generosity and kindness can lead to more specific faults. Irritability, defensiveness, arrogance, shyness, and other human failings often result from an underlying failure to treat ourselves and others with respect. Christians would say that behind those flaws is something even more fundamental – a failure to be open to the power and love at the heart of the universe.

When Jesus was asked what was the most important thing to get right (Mark 12.28), he said it was love of God, of our neighbour and of ourselves. Perhaps today as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of a beautiful sculpture, we might reaffirm our desire to become beautiful people. To do so will mean adopting that kind of basic stance in life. Then the other flaws which threaten to spoil our overall loveliness may well begin to straighten themselves out.

This is the time of year to see goshawks. Male birds, seeking to attract a mate and establish their territory, soar above their forest habitat. The falcons are double the size of their nearest relative, the sparrowhawk, and their beauty has led them to be called Accipiter gentiles, “noble hawk”. In one of the few places they can be seen in the UK, in the Forest of Dean, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Forestry Commission have built a viewing platform

People are coming from all over the country. They stand looking up and hoping to catch a glimpse of this rare and majestic bird. It’s apparently a magical sight

It’s the time of year too when people in the northern hemisphere easily get run down and weary. Cold short days added to the normal pressures of living can sometimes create a mood in which we keep our heads down and battle on till the arrival of days which are warmer, both literally and metaphorically. Perhaps it’s a form of hibernation and perhaps a better response is not to lower our heads but to lift them, not to look inwards but out and up.

The Psalmist has a phrase which is often quoted to bring encouragement in this kind of depression: “I will lift up my eyes to the hills”* In fact, the hills in that context did not represent beauty and majesty but the home of the shrines to false gods. The Psalmist is saying this is not the solution. When human beings are feeling low, they are prone to seek comfort in ways which are not good for them.

There is much in the world around us, in people, in the natural world, in art and culture, which can encourage and inspire. Christians would say that God comes, through these things as well as more directly, to those who “lift their eyes”. If today, we are feeling low, let’s keep our eyes open for what’s beautiful and uplifting. Who knows, we may even catch a glimpse of majesty.

*Psalm 121

This evening at the Natural History Museum, photographers from all round the world will be awaiting the results of the 2003 Wildlife Photographer of the Year award. Last year the overall winner caught these African elephants in the Luangwa National Park in Zambia. A grey heron had just landed in front of them ready to pick up any edible matter their tramping disturbed. They had momentarily stopped what they were doing to watch the new arrival and were looking at the bird intently.

Today we could allow ourselves to be interrupted by the wonderful and beautiful things in the natural world around us. Angie Scott, who took this winning photo, described the experience of watching these elephants as "priceless". Perhaps there is nothing as valuable in our world as the opportunity to enjoy the trees, the birds, the sky, and to focus on them and, even if only for a moment, to look at them intently.

Spectacles in a helmet mounted with two cameras could record images of the objects the user sees. A German researcher, Christian Bauckhage, has built a prototype of these "memory spectacles". The memory built up could help people find lost keys or remember route directions. "We are trying to recreate human abilities, such as seeing or hearing, so that we can build them into a complete intelligence system".

It would be good way to renew our energy if we were able exactly to recall especially beautiful or inspiring scenes or objects. Worth a moment perhaps to ask ourselves which ones we’d choose. But the eyes with which we see things are not inanimate like the proposed helmet. Our memory of things we’ve seen is imbued with the feelings that went with that moment. What we see is affected by our hopes and expectations and our attitude to what we’re looking at.

Jesus said ‘Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness’ (Luke 11.34). A healthy eye is one which sees with appreciation, generosity and love. Let’s be sure today that it’s with these spectacles that we look at the things and people around us.