“We will now begin boarding for flight 1802 from LAX to New York City.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to JFK Airport.”
“Ahora vamos a hacer nuestro descenso en Madrid. We will now be making our descent into Madrid.”
“Bienvenidos a Alicante, que disfruten su estadía.”
Two chaotic bus rides later, we stumbled out onto the streets of Altea, Spain, squinting in the bright sun as our lungs relaxed with deep breaths of long-awaited fresh air. After having traveled for over thirty hours straight with little sleep, jet lag formed a brittle shell of exhaustion around us, deflecting any excitement of finally arriving at the place we’d been dreaming of for months.
After being assigned our apartments all throughout Altea, a group of edgies began what we were told was a “fun adventure hike” to our home for the duration of the trip. Apparently, that translates to a tiring trek, with our overstuffed luggage mind you, up a grand total of 295 stairs (we counted). We stopped to take a breather at the top of the first (of many) flights of cobblestone steps. As we bent over to catch our breath, I glanced over my shoulder and did a complete double take. The view our climb had revealed was so violently and unavoidably beautiful it felt like a slap in the face.
The haze of travel melted into a puddle around our feet as we beheld with awe the view that lay before us. The sea stretching for miles, so brilliantly blue that it was difficult to focus.
The intimate town sprawled below, with bright white buildings adorned with deeply colored blooms framing the winding streets and shop facades.
As we continued the trek up the hill, thoughts of sweat drenched bodies and unsettling airline food vanished. It felt as if we had stepped into a dream. Somehow, with each hill and every set of stairs the view just kept getting better.
When we finally reached our apartment and stepped out onto the balcony, someone exclaimed, “Wow. It really isn’t just a stock photo.”
To say Altea is beautiful is an understatement for the ages. It’s almost indescribable. Every corner is a new view, each street is filled with vibrant accents of color, and the sunrises and sunsets color the sky with a stunning range of pastels.
Beauty such as this stirs up an excitement in the soul of the beholder, and it is a natural human instinct to want to share this feeling with others. Edgies immediately started sending pictures to family and friends as proof we were alive and had arrived, but the responses that rolled in were far from encouraging.
“What, so we payed for you to stay at a resort?”
“Isn’t this supposed to be a missions trip?”
Frustrations grew as people continued to share their responses. What we had just soaked up with unabashed joy and admiration was now obscured by a screen of guilt.
Edge is not a “normal” style of missions. Every intricate fiber of Edge acknowledges and celebrates beauty, especially beauty within the Lord’s creation. Whether it be beauty in the stunning Spanish setting, the unexpected human connections and interactions, the contrasts within cultural diversity, or even more literally through art shows, Edge does not only admire the beautiful, but encourages living among it. Edge cultivates a purposeful involvement, emphasizing that the beautiful ways in which we go about our day to day lives are worship in themselves to the one we model our creativity after, the ultimate Creator.
So, why the guilt? The guilt that stems from enjoying beauty is not something new in Christian culture. Throughout history, there has been a divide between those who believe beauty and artistry elevate worship and others who believe it is a distraction from worship’s true intentions. This translates into two ways of thinking: “creating beauty” for Christ’s sake versus “relinquishing [beauty] for Christ’s sake.” This idea of beauty as an obstacle to worship was later combined with iconoclasm, where people began to associate church icons with false idols, and beauty suddenly became sinful. Thus, the only way to properly live as a Christian was to purge desires of the flesh and ensure a “righteous suffering.”
There is a lot to be said for the benefits of serving Christ in situations that aren’t necessarily considered beautiful, and there is no doubt that there is a need for this kind of service in our messy world. However, these negative responses that came from this cultural taboo surrounding beauty in missions begs an interesting question: how could God have created something so beautiful without an intention for his creation to enjoy it together? Edge seeks to eliminate this divide between beauty and traditional missions and reclaim creativity as an amazing form of service and worship.
Ultimately, it is as Joseph Pieper says about the power of art as worship.
“Art will guide us to turn with resolve, constancy, courage, and hope toward the one and only good by whose grace our inner existential yearning finds fulfillment; the one Good praise exalted with such ‘wordless jubilation.’”
Beauty and creativity brings us all closer to our Savior, and every time I step up onto the two hundred and ninety fifth step, I (rather breathlessly) thank God for his beautiful creation and what he is cultivating in this city.
Us edgies are so excited to continue living the Edge way of life here in Altea (living on the Edge if you will). We are learning to set aside cultural misunderstandings to fully experience God’s grace and providence in our lives as we have all been called to love and create in the little town of Altea, Spain.
-Jaye, Edge 2019