The everyday road of life is littered with the pains of growing up, loving and failing to love, of peace and discord. What is God saying through all the muck of life? God speaks to us through beauty. But to hear his words, we must slow down and listen with our hearts. I don’t know a better guide for chasing beauty than Timothy Willard. In his counter-cultural book, The Beauty Chasers, he gives us a guidebook for discovering how to see the world with fresh eyes and let beauty guide us in life and our relationship with God. It’s a grace to welcome Tim to the farm’s table today…
I stood on a lone outcropping of rocks weeping. It was the kind of cry that comes unannounced. The kind that sweeps through you like the rain I was watching sweep through the valley.
Sheep wandered around the rocks and ate in the quiet drizzle. Below, Lake Windermere gathered the rain and the dying light of day. It was a magical lake where Wordsworth, Coleridge, Ruskin, and Beatrix Potter all wandered.
“Tim, why don’t you come up to the hotel. Bring your family. I’ve a room you can use, no charge.”
The invitation—a blessing from a friend of a friend. I’d never met him. But he knew my family was still adjusting to life in England. And it was Thanksgiving. So, I accepted.
My wife and three daughters were resting in the room while I rambled up the Lake District countryside of Windermere. And now, as dusk settled in, so much of life rushed me, like a bandit in the night.
Why was I crying, I mumbled to myself?
Six years earlier we’d moved to Atlanta on hope and a prayer of finding work as a full-time writer. We lived in our friend’s basement. I wrote for free. I got my first editing job, then was let go a year later just as we closed on our first house. The market crashed a month later as we heard the doctor say, “There’s a heartbeat. You’re going to be parents.”
The wind kicked up. The light rain blew, spitting cool upon my face.
Now here we were in England with three girls under five years old, one, an infant. We lived in a small two pub village just outside of Oxford, England.
How did we get here, I thought?
We sold it all, that’s how. The house, the two cars, most of our furniture. We arrived in London with five suitcases, my bike, and guitar. The essentials. The adventure started when I emailed Alister McGrath, the British theologian and scientist, in the middle of the night, asking him if he’d consider a doctoral thesis that explored beauty in the works of C.S. Lewis.
To my surprise, he loved the idea. But my wife, well, she wasn’t ready to uproot her brood. It took us months to finally agree on a way forward. It was scary. It was expensive. It would require huge sacrifices.
I had just published my first book, with two more slated to release. It was a bad idea, right? Move to a different country when I should have been promoting the books. But something moved me toward the distance of England.
“But there’s something about distance, right? Something about the silence that comes when your world slows down.”
And that distance found me on the craggy hills of Lake Windermere. We were alone. I knew exactly three people—but only because they were reading for their PhD’s too.
But there’s something about distance, right? Something about the silence that comes when your world slows down. I felt like Eustace must have felt when Aslan turned him back into a boy after he’d transformed into a dragon. The scales of Atlanta fell off me up there on that rock outcropping. And it hurt.
I looked at what I’d given of myself to become a writer. I looked at the cynicism that had crept in on me. The Tim I’d known for so long had fallen under the spell of professional Christianity. And I’d become a dragon. Me, with my “greedy, dragonish thoughts.”
For two years I remained in that Windermere moment. I listened. I walked the countryside. I studied. I began to see again. Not just with my physical eyes, but with the eyes of my heart.
“I began to see again. Not just with my physical eyes, but with the eyes of my heart.”
The hurry. The pace of life back in the States melted away. A new rhythm replaced it.
It wasn’t long until I realized that my study of beauty in the works of Lewis was a trap set by God himself. I studied beauty and joy and longing, what I described as Lewis’s language of beauty. But I found myself and my family living within the study, trapped in the inexorable presence of Beauty itself.
The French philosopher Simone Weil (pronounced SEE-moan Vay) describes beauty as the mouth of a labyrinth. The unwary traveler steps in but very soon cannot find the opening. The traveler wanders the labyrinth, away from everything familiar and comfortable. If the traveler does not lose courage and continues to walk, he will find the center of the labyrinth.
“And there God is waiting to eat him.”
I find this is the way of it. For when the traveler emerges from the labyrinth, he is changed—having been eaten and digested by God.
We returned from Oxford several years ago. The dragon-me, eaten and digested by God. And here’s what I learned about beauty.
Beauty can change you if you let it. That’s what the path of life has taught me so far. Beauty changed me. Still does.
Beauty lures us to pursue it, “to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from,” as Lewis puts it in his final novel Till We Have Faces.
“This idea of chasing beauty is about pursuing a lifestyle that goes against the cultural grain of busyness, loudness, and naked ambition—you know, the kind of ambition we’re told to have if we want to find success in this cutthroat world.”
Beauty is an event. It is the Infinite splintering into the Finite. It is God himself. We experience the tremors of this event and call it beauty. And when we do, nothing is more satisfying than chasing beauty.
This idea of chasing beauty is about pursuing a lifestyle that goes against the cultural grain of busyness, loudness, and naked ambition—you know, the kind of ambition we’re told to have if we want to find success in this cutthroat world.
My relative short life has taught me that Beauty Chasers are thinkers and listeners. They see when the world goes blind. They embody quietness when all the world wants to do is scream. They promote the good of others when the world says promote yourself. They give life to others when the world seems hell-bent to kill. Beauty Chasers live their lives to a different cadence. They walk the path less traveled.
Maybe it was Aslan whispering to me on that rainy evening at Lake Windermere. And just maybe he’s whispering to us all. Whispering for us to wake up and see once again. Whispering revival. But not the kind you’d think. The kind that comes from getting lost in the labyrinth of the wonder of God.
Timothy Willard is a writer and independent scholar. He lived in Oxford, England for two years where he studied beauty and northern aesthetics in the works of C.S. Lewis for his PhD under the supervision of Alister McGrath. He is the author of four books. His new book, The Beauty Chasers: Recapturing the Wonder of the Divine (Zondervan Reflective, 2022) can be purchased wherever books are sold. He lives in southcentral North Carolina, and you can connect with him on his website or Instagram @timothywillard.
For a limited time, when you purchase The Beauty Chasers, enjoy the free bonus of Tim’s eCourse “The Ways of Wonder: Five Practical Secrets to Help You Stay Hopeful, Grateful & Soulful.” Visit Tim’s website, www.timothywillard.com, for more information on how to claim your bonus.