"Faith in the World Week will provide an opportunity across the week on Radio 2 to look at the moral, religious and ethical issues surrounding beauty. Is striving for beauty and perfection a damaging obsession? Many religions say that beauty is a blessing with little worth and no significance unless it is accompanied by inner beauty. But what is inner beauty? What makes someone look beautiful? Is it the symmetry of a face or their personality? Why do cultures define beauty differently? What about disability and old age-how do we measure beauty here? These are some of the questions that will be asked in features and interviews throughout the week on R2.”
In one of U2’s most beautiful songs, called Song For Someone, Bono begins with the words:
“You had a face not spoiled by beauty
I had some scars from where I’d been…”
What does he mean “spoiled by beauty” and I wonder what are these scars Bono carries?
It seems to me that Bono is dealing with the difference between physical and spiritual beauty. There are no scars from what I can see on Bono’s face but when he fell in love with Ali Stewart as a teenager in a Dublin school he was carrying the scars of loss.
Bono’s mother died at her own father’s funeral. Bono was 14. Bono had been spiritually scarred from where he’d been.
Bono’s wife Ali is a very beautiful woman. Or should I say Bono’s wife Ali is culturally a very beautiful woman. Cultural beauty is a beauty manipulated by society. In our society magazine editors, Hollywood directors and pop star moguls have defined beauty in a specific way; a woman’s figure, shape of cheeks, size of nose, colour of hair, slimness of physique.
I used to say to my students that being frighteningly thin might be of cultural beauty in the UK but on an African township or village it’s not culturally sought after at all.
Anyway, back to Bono. It seems to me that he saw something more in his girlfriend than just good looks. Here was a woman who didn’t spoil the real beauty within her to chase, be distracted or obsessed with how she looked on the outside. She had found the difference between cultural beauty and spiritual beauty. It is a spiritual beauty that has been of great importance in Bono’s life ever since.
Later in the song Bono brings in the Christian story. He sings:
And I'm a long way
From your hill on Calvary
And I'm a long way
From where I was, where I need to be
Calvary is where Jesus was crucified, Christians believe, to heal all the spiritual scars of humanity. To give us all faces not spoiled by beauty but renewed souls fired up to do beautiful things in our world.