My older son was born the same week as the Pixar movie Wall-E, and I’ve always felt a bond with the little trash-collecting robot. Like Wall-E, I’m a bit of a pack rat, I have a fondness for old musicals, and I have a tendency to run into things when I’m trying to impress someone. Only a few years ago, though, when I heard director Andrew Stanton explain Wall-E’s driving motivation during a TED talk on story did I put together what it was about the robot that I truly admire. Wall-E’s driving force, his “spine,” as Stanton calls it, is to find and protect the beautiful.
How great is that?
Think about it: Wall-E’s entire existence – aside from the menial collection and compaction of garbage – is about collecting tiny treasures, which he carefully shepherds in his home. And after Wall-E finds the tiny plant, then meets the enigmatic super-robot Eve, he undertakes extreme measures to ensure the safety of both. He clings to the outside of a space-bound rocket, endures chases and damage aboard the spaceship Axiom, and, ultimately wedges himself inside an access hatch which nearly crushes him. Here’s a picture of what Wall-E looks like in the movie’s climactic scene, all for the sake of the preservation of the beauty.
Yikes. Talk about dedication.
So what it is about Eve, the plant, the Rubik’s cube, the light bulb, and the old VHS tapes that Wall-E clings to?
In Breath for the Bones, her blessed meditation on art and faith, Luci Shaw calls beauty “God’s grace in action, the invisible made visible, the Word made flesh and dwelling with me, grace in glorious three-dimensional color with better-than-Dolby sound; and fragrance, taste, and texture…” Makoto Fujimura says “beauty points beyond itself, beyond survival to satisfaction … [it] connects us with the why of living. It points to discoveries waiting to be made about the creation … toward questions of right relationships, of ultimate meaning, and even of eternity.”
Beauty takes a thousand different forms. Some are everyday and barely noticeable. Others stop you in your tracks. Beauty is there for the beholding.
And, I think Wall-E had it right. Beauty is worth fighting for, worth getting beat up and a little damaged for. Here are three reasons I can think of:
- Because it’s incarnational.
Take a walk through a field of wildflowers, or – depending on your climate – a field of snow. The physical world is, indeed, “charged with the grandeur of God.” Again, Lucy Shaw: “This is the essence of the sacramental: paying attention, noticing, discovering that material things remind us of – and point us to – the things we cannot see but that have ultimate and eternal reality and value.” Beauty takes us into the heart of God because the physical world – in all its incarnational splendor and inconsistencies – is from the heart of God. Meditating on the beauty around us points us toward meditating on the Creator.
- Because it’s renewable.
The making of beautiful things springs from a God who is boundless in his giving, lavish in his gifts. And though our physical bodies may grow tired, our spirits will not. It’s a promise: “though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). The beauty we see around us shows no signs of stopping, and neither will our own ability to create beauty. Beauty begets more beauty.
- Because it’s generational.
The beauty we bring to our homes, our children, the networks we engage regularly, will be seeds that we plant everywhere we go. And the next generation will reap the harvest of those seeds for long after we have gone. Like Wall-E and the crew of the Axiom returning to earth after centuries in space, they’ll see the fruit of that harvest, and it will enrich their world.
So fight for the beautiful. Some days it will seem as easy as breathing. Others it will seem like combat. But if you haven’t noticed, the best things are worth fighting for – and beauty is one of them. Protect it. Nurture it in your home like Wall-E’s tiny plant, the only resource of its kind in a dry and dusty land. The harvest will be sweet.