“When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.“—John Muir
The beauty of this spinning planet invites and beckons. Entering a thoughtfully decorated room, the table set with gleaming glassware, flowers, and a sumptuous feast, we are drawn inward. It whispers to us that we are wanted and welcome, a place has been arranged for us, the red carpet has been spread out before us.
Likewise, this blue sphere on which we live summons us to open our eyes and see all which has been lovingly prepared for us. Consider the extravagance which lies hidden under the surface of the sea; diverse creatures, dizzying in their complexity and beauty, yet rarely seen by human eyes. What is the reason for this lavishness, this wastefulness? Ponder the vastness of space, of which we see only a sliver, hiding more stars than there are grains of sand throughout our world. We are mesmerized as we gaze heavenward. No prudent hand flung these twinkling wonders into the velvet blue expanse.
Even if all of humanity were unable to grasp it, beauty would remain. We can ignore it and close our hearts to its influence as we choose, but our lives are diminished if we do so. Who has not felt the power of a sunset, the crashing of waves on the shore, the sound of birdsong in the darkness, the twinkle in a loved one’s eye and not experienced an expansion within? The enlarging of our hearts with wonder and gratitude?
Beauty extends far beyond the bounds of sight alone. We consider something beautiful when—through the senses, imagination, intellect, or any combination of these—we experience pleasure or deep satisfaction in an object or person.
The splendour and extravagance surrounding us have a message we need to hear.
When I hear the clear notes of Andrea Bocelli’s singing on Easter Sunday to his lamenting and wounded country, amidst all the loss and horror of the past weeks, my soul is buoyed by the loveliness—a glimmer of hope rises up.
John Keats’ poem, A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever, says, “All lovely tales that we have heard or read, an endless fountain of immortal drink, pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.” There is something otherworldly about a story masterfully told, music exuding from one committed to the craft, or paint strokes flowing from a keen observer of loveliness. Simone Weil expresses it this way, “In all that awakens within us the pure and authentic sentiment of beauty, there, truly, is the presence of God. There is a kind of incarnation of God in the world, of which beauty is the sign.”
In ways which facts and arguments will never reach us, beauty has a way of bypassing our heads and going straight to our hearts. It can speak rest to our weary souls and restoration into our lives. It tells a story of purpose and wholeness, order and generosity. Hope is ignited when, in the midst of uncertainty and pain, we behold even a glimpse of loveliness. We begin to live in the tension of knowing life is hard but also beautiful. When we shift our focus from the darkness toward the shimmering strands of a spider’s web, the hush of a moss-carpeted forest, or the heady scent of a linden tree in bloom, we give space for the seedling of hope to grow.
There is the false beauty with which our culture attempts to distract us, giving us a promise of meaning but instead delivering emptiness. We are inundated with images of physical perfection which leave us dissatisfied. Loveliness must be free of pretense or smoke and mirror tricks in order for it to be true beauty. Qualities of truth and rightness, justice and health are also tangled up in all that is truly beautiful.
Hidden within the folds of everyday life are smaller glimpses of loveliness, perhaps all the more precious for their ability to be overlooked. On an average day there is magic, and these daily theophanies reveal the nature and character of their source. Beauty begets beauty, grandeur begets grandeur. The natural world points us to an Initiator who is more magnificent and beautiful than we can comprehend. According to Pope Benedict XVI, true beauty “unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond. If we acknowledge that beauty touches us intimately, that it wounds us, that it opens our eyes, then we rediscover the joy of seeing, of being able to grasp the profound meaning of our existence.”
As our eyes are opened to the beauty around us, our hearts open also, enlarged by wonder and reverence. When we cultivate a practice of recognizing the glorious and lovely all around us, we see all that is glorious in the image bearers with whom we share this great blue planet. Seeing the imprint of the Creator on every person calls out for us to love, honor and protect each one. This will be played out in our lives in profound respect for all individuals, not just those who share our belief systems or values. If we follow the teachings of Jesus, this will include a respect and love for even our enemies. In yoga, at the end of class the instructor says “Namaste” and bows to the students as they echo the words and action in response. This word carries with it a deep regard for one another and can be translated to mean “The Divine in me, honors the Divine in you”. We recognize in one another the image of God, no matter how flawed it may be, and this changes how we treat one another. There can be no division, no hierarchy based on skin color, gender, socioeconomic status, political affiliation or belief systems, when deep reverence and love have the final say. This reverence for our fellow humans will always lead to action on another’s behalf.
The faithful rising and setting of the sun and moon, the dependable ebb and flow of earth’s tides, remind us that a mighty and caring hand still holds all things. There is stability even within our societies which have been rocked to their foundations. One look at the painted sky in the evening reminds us of the presence of the Divine within our world, a tiny blossom amidst the paving stones, a guarantee of God’s intimacy with our quotidian concerns. In light of this we can say, along with Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”