A Beautiful War: An Essay on Pain and Beauty

Note: I don’t usually post creative writing on this blog, but I felt compelled to share this piece with you. If you like it, I may share more. Feel free to give me your honest feedback.

“This is a beautiful war,” she said with her eyes, as we stood in the hallway, both saying goodbye.

And I realized this was how we live our lives.

There is a Beautiful War raging inside of us. It is the story of our world, the story of our lives.

A Beautiful War
Photo credit: Flickr (Creative Commons)

It’s worry and wonder, awe and impulse. It’s the first day of school and the final breath. A baby’s strained peas and a killer’s last meal.

It’s the pain we are trying to escape, the suffering we are trying to numb.

We see it; we sense it. And yet, it eludes us: the conflict of heaven and earth crashing together on this glorious battlefield, a playground of bruised and battered dreams — all in a climax of grace and redemption.

When we were young, we were told that Evil would be vanquished, that Good would prevail. In innocence, we believed that Good was enough.

But no one ever told us this would hurt,
that it would cost us our lives.
That there’d be no going back.

No one ever told us about the War. The beautiful calamity. The tragic victory.

It’s tectonic plates and midnight brawls.
Laughter and lies —
and somersaults.

It’s a walk in Central Park,
lonely hikes down haunted highways.

It’s anxious thoughts and baited breath;
white hoods and chocolate faces —
and blood stains on a wedding dress.

It’s a chuckle through a sneer and bravery through tears.

This is our War. This great epic, unceasing drama.

And here we are — caught in the middle, with God on one side and the Devil the other. They whisper truth and lies and we can’t tell which is which.

The skies rage; the seas scream. And our souls search for beauty.

Lightning crashes in a starless void, while we wait for something true. Somewhere deep within the Mystery.

This is the War we cannot see — that gets ignored by sitcoms and reality TV. This is the scene we all must notice — with open eyes and hearts, willing to break.

We must choose:

To ignore the fight.

Or to stop, pause, reflect.
And dare to dream again.
To imagine a world without the War.

Maybe. Some day. But not now. We sigh and scoff — all in the same breath.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit. We are more than spectators in this War.

This battle is one we’re fighting not only on the outside.

This is a travesty we’re causing and contributing to. We, the soldiers. We assassins of Beauty.

This brokenness lives inside. It’s what breaks hearts and destroys love. It’s what makes life horrible and beautiful at once.

It’s the apparition of our days and the dreams of our night.

Because out of ashes broken wings fly.
Out of the furnace comes gold —
dripping with dross and shining with glory.

And light begins to dawn in the dark.

Maybe, just maybe, this is not all there is:
this wonderful War of beauty,
this glorious tragedy.

Maybe our vision is clouded by cannon smoke. Maybe our wounds are more than cruel scars. Maybe the War is, in fact, a story.

Maybe there is yet more to see.

This post was inspired by the music from Carl Dylan’s upcoming EP A Beautiful War. You can get it for free (but feel free to tip!) on NoiseTrade. Click here to find out more about the Kickstarter project.

To share your own essay on pain and beauty, leave a comment and use the Twitter hashtag #abeautifulwar.

What is your Beautiful War? Share in the comments.

*Photo credit: Alex E. Proimos (Creative Commons)

59 thoughts on “A Beautiful War: An Essay on Pain and Beauty

  1. I love this. Life is definitely a paradox. We live somewhere in the middle. I think I share my essays on pain and beauty every week on my blog and strive to be more present and honest in my writing everyday. We should all strive to do this no matter what our business is. No matter what our method of communication is; whether it be writing, painting, singing or dreaming. For me the creative journey is about authenticity, honesty and a transparency that lends its self to be a window to others. There is opportunity for change and transformation in the written word. We, as writers, have to be the edge walkers.

  2. Jeff…outstanding! Please write more like this! I will participate this weekend and look forward to seeing other results.

    Seriously…this is good.

  3. Jeff, I’ve been a supporter of what you do for a long time.  And I have to tell you how much I appreciate this post.  It spoke to me not only on a creative level, but a level that is much deeper.

    I think this line really spoke to me the most “To imagine a world without the war”

    For the simple fact that the war is constantly being fought, but often times we pretend that it’s not.  We pretend as if there is peace.  And when that happens, when we let our guard down, we are in trouble.

  4. Jeff, I think this might be one my favorite things I have ever read from you.  Lately, I’ve been doing a lot writing about what the Lord has been teaching me throughout life about the beauty found in struggle.  I loved when you said this “Maybe our wounds are more than cruel scars. Maybe the War is, in fact, a story”  A beautiful, beautiful story.  Thanks for sharing this with us. 

  5. You can’t have sweet without the sour. That’s the phrase I thought of when you said “It’s what makes life both horrible and beautiful all at once.” We are all in this cosmic story, thrown into it whether we wanted to take part in it or not. And I believe there is yet more to see. 

    This was deep! Really appreciated you sharing this essay!

  6. “Dripping with dross and shining with glory” – what an eloquent way to describe this life, this beautiful war.  Thank you for sharing ~ 

  7. Wow. Beautiful, Jeff. Wouldn’t hurt for you to share these types of writings from time to time. 😉

          1. Ah yes. And this held vulnerability. But you must practice what you preach. We need you to. How else are we going to see it done?

  8. This is so powerful and so movingly beautiful. Your use of the words so accurately reflecting the reality of the pain and beauty we experience in life. I can testify to the mystery of it all and am trying to share some of that on my blog. Its like someone else has commented earlier, being real, being honest and transparent, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to others. yes please write more of this its wonderful. 

  9. Jeff, I know your blog is focused more on the act of writing and I do enjoy your posts, but this is by far your best writing and best post here! Amazing, bro. Absolutely amazing. I know the rule of thumb is to write shorter post with bullet points and you’ve seen more readership and comments because of it, but you should consider finding a way to work this kind of writing into your blog – like once a week posts like this or something. Tips on writing are great, but it’s posts like this that put you over the top!

  10. Wow.  This is the kind of writing I’m scared to even attempt, especially when there are people who are more eloquent than me, like… you, for example!

    I’m going to give it a try though this week.  Why not, right? 

  11. Jeff, I love this. It’s epic good vs evil, but mature and adult. You bring out the deep longings we all have. You don’t crush them and leave them in a fairy-tale. The you season them with some wisdom and remain hopeful. Keep it up.

  12. Jeff, you ask about our Beautiful War.  Well, mine is simple.  I war within myself between the things I must do and the things I want to do.  For, as the Apostle Paul said, What I want to do I do not, and what I do not want, I do.  Simply, I feel too much responsibility right now to spend time writing.  Yet, if I don’t have some kind of release like writing, I will be overwhelmed by all that I am responsible for.  How can I balance those two?  What gets short shrift today?  What gets left behind tomorrow?  What do I ignore, hoping it will go away in a month?  What must I face head on today because it hasn’t gone away this week?

    That is my war, trivial as it is.  And yet, I bet I’m not alone.


  13. *applauding*  Wow.  I know you had to step outside your comfort zone to post this, but it was so worth it.  Bravo!

    Honest feedback:  Yes, I’d LOVE to see more of this. 

  14. Love it, Jeff. Keep em coming! The risk is worth the effort. 

    Writing like this is risky. I do it occasionally…and only occasionally because it’s so tough and vulnerable.

    Hoest feedback: I love it. 

  15. OMG, I just found you and wasn’t sure I wanted to continue reading your blog and then I read this beautiful essay.  I am awe struck.  You said things I have unsuccessfully tried to say for years.  Thank you a million times.  I love this.  Louise

  16. Jeff, I thank you for this beautiful and at the same time painful post!

    My spiritual mentor once said to me:
    “You can’t cover up or hide your heart and stand in your truth at the same time. Truth is to be vulnerable and sometimes that hurts. But vulnerable is actually a beautiful word. The latin word “vulnerare” means to be able to be wounded, to be broken open.  Have faith that your heart is strong enough”. That’s like a warrior’s initiation, I guess. Before you can call yourself a warrior you have to prove and endure wounds so you know how to trust your strength and capacity to heal.

    Anyway, I agree with some of the commentators, you should post a creative writing post once in a while; like a periodical from the heart-kinda-post. It would only portray you and what your heart sees, not your great writing advice (which I appreciate very much 🙂 ). Just you.

    Keep this amazing emotions coming.

  17. Someone wise once told me not to spend a whole lot of time figuring out what people wanted, but to spend your life asking God what He wanted to give them through you.
    You have great insight into writing, but it pales in comparison to the Story. God has placed eternity in the hearts of men.  What is eternal: this will last. This is living. This is the ONLY gift. Thanks for this.

  18. I know this is a departure from your usual content, but it is memorable and will be in my thoughts for the day. “No one ever told us about the War…” this is powerful and resonates, I hope I’ll get to see more. I think we need more urgency in our days.

  19. i really liked this , the kind of  inspiration i was looking for. i read it once then read it again ,backwards. thanks.

  20. This isn’t an essay, it’s a poem. The kind of poem I wrote in high school because the girl I liked was dating a schmuck.

    That said, the quality of the writing isn’t what makes this inspiring, it’s the sincerity. You invoke every cliche that could possibly be fit in but in doing so it remind the reader that cliche only means this has all happened before and we’re all still here to make something of it. I like that.

    But seriously dude, don’t blur the lines between prose and poetry. I have a hard enough time explaining them to people as it is.

  21. Wow. The contrast in each sentence is mesmerizing. I took each word in and chewed on it a little bit before moving on. Our souls search for beauty. So moving. I’ll be thinking about this for the rest of the week. Absolutely beautiful.

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