Encanto – Beauty

Got a little mixed up with my timing folks, it’s been a week! Here’s what ought to have posted Sunday. More Encanto, on time, this coming Sunday. Thanks for your grace and patience.

Last week, I almost got ahead of myself and into today’s topic, Beauty. What is beauty? Is it based in the opinion of others or ourselves? We are sticking with Isabela again as we contemplate these questions.

As mentioned, Isabela appears to hold the gold standard on beauty in the Encanto-verse. She has lovely looks, perfect clothes, a sparkling smile, and what’s more, her gift seems to have something to do with beauty. Isabela can make flowers shower from nothing, beautifying the town with the mere thought of a rose. I’ll admit, the first time I watched Encanto I wondered about the superfluous gift Isabela had. What’s the point of being able to toss flowers around except to spread pollen dust and dried petals?

I had to dig deeper, which we will get to. But first, let’s look at Isabela’s relationship with her gift. At the start, Isabela only made what others had told her was perfect, just like her. Her understanding of beauty was limited by the perceptions of others. It’s only after her moment of self knowledge that she begins to be creative with her gift. She experiments with color, plant variety and size. We can tell she is embracing this new and broadened understanding of her powers in her clothing at the of the movie. Instead of returning to her old lavender dress, she has a darker indigo one with a few of the colorful paint splotches still on it. She also has incorporated some of the color into her hair.

To the audience, Isabela was beautiful before her transformation. She is beautiful after. So, what’s up with this whole Beauty thing. If we look into Isabela’s head, I think we would find she finds herself much more beautiful at the end of the movie. This is because it is beauty she has chosen, not beauty that has been composed for her.

Bishop Barron, who I talk about fairly frequently, loves to bring up the importance of Beauty, capital “B.” Beauty is one of the three transcendentals, the other two being Goodness and Truth. In a society that continues to be highly polarized, beginning conversations about religion, or frankly, many topics, with what is ultimately Good or True can be non-starters. We are divided on what is Good for all people, what is True for all people. What is Good to me might not be from where you sit. Same with Truth. It’s a sorry state of affairs, but being sorry doesn’t mean we give up hope. There’s one transcendental left. Beauty. (If you want to read more, here’s the first part of a multi-article conversation about Beauty)

Beauty has many shapes and sizes. It could be something as grand as the Sistine Chapel or something as simple as the first tulips bursting forth to claim spring’s arrival. It is something that draws you in, the causes you to pause and say, “Wow.” It could be a hard thing, like watching an older couple struggle up the street but still holding hands. It could be a challenging thing, like a poem that calls out social injustice or stigma. It could be simple, complicated, made by a master or a child. Beauty surrounds is, just like Isabela’s flowers surrounded her and her town.

Here is the difference between Isabela’s initial beauty and what is becomes. At first, her beauty was skin deep. We see that in how she treats Mirabel and how she values her own happiness. Her beauty didn’t lead anyone anywhere. But at the end, she is discovering that authentic Beauty causes someone to pause, to ponder and perhaps even to change. Her expression of true Beauty at the end of her song forced Abuela to stop. While Abuela’s first reaction was anger, she quickly comes to realize that each member of her family is Good, just as they are. Again, movie magic quickly, Abuela then recognizes that each person is a gift unto themselves. The gift bestowed by the miracle can never and should never outshine the person.

What is Beautiful around you today? What is making you pause and say, “Wow, that’s amazing!” As Christians, we believe that God can be found within each of those beautiful things, moments or ideas. How is He speaking to you through them? What Goodness is He drawing you toward? What Truth could you learn?