God saw that it was beautiful

When God created the world, Genesis says He “saw that it was good” which also means “beautiful.”

Rate this:

I’m back pondering “beauty”–partly because I’m reading an excellent article, “Tolkien and St. Thomas on Beauty” from the current issue of StAR.  Lots to ponder there.  Then this morning I stumbled on this post from Conversion Diary about music and beauty.  Seems to be a theme for my day today.  Actually, the upshot of my pondering this morning was to ask God for more of His eyes, to be able to see the beauty in every soul I encounter today (including my own).  When God created the world, Genesis says He “saw that it was good” which also means “beautiful.”  This is how God sees us:

The Creator, like a divine poet, in bringing the world into being out of nothingness, composed his “Symphony in Six Days,” the Hexameron. After each one of his creative acts, he “saw that it was beautiful.”  The Greek text of the biblical story uses the word kalon–beautiful–and not agathon–good; the Hebrew word carries both meanings at the same time.  (Paul Evdokimov, The Art of the Icon: a Theology of Beauty, p. 2)

A pure transparent pool

I’ve been thinking about how I would answer my own query at the end of yesterday’s post, and one thing that immediately came to mind that brings beauty into my own life is a little photo album of art prints and such that I have collected.  For many of them I have an accompanying quote on the facing page.  Often I use it as an accompaniment in prayer, a source of meditation.  One example of this can be found here.  And here is another example:

I find this image of Mary quite beautiful.  Its title is Mary, the Mother and Consolation of the Grieving.   The following is the poem I have placed opposite it:


There was nothing in the Virgin’s soul
that belonged to the Virgin–
no word, no thought, no image, no intent.
She was a pure, transparent pool reflecting
God, only God.
She held His burnished day; she held His night
of planet-glow or shade inscrutable.
God was her sky and she who mirrored Him
became His firmament.

When I so much as turn my thoughts toward her
my spirit is enisled in her repose.
And when I gaze into her selfless depths
an anguish in me grows
to hold such blueness and to hold such fire.
I pray to hollow out my earth and be
filled with these waters of transparency.
I think that one could die of this desire,
seeing oneself dry earth or stubborn sod.
Oh, to become a pure soul like the Virgin,
water that lost the semblances of water
and was a sky like God.
~Jessica Powers

“You are the Custodians of Beauty”

A couple of months ago, I began a series of posts on beauty.  Pope Benedict XVI just last week addressed a group of some 250 artists gathered in the Sistine chapel on this very theme. What particularly struck me in his address was the link he made between beauty and hope.

Unfortunately, the present time is marked, not only by negative elements in the social and economic sphere, but also by a weakening of hope, by a certain lack of confidence in human relationships, which gives rise to increasing signs of resignation, aggression and despair.  . .  . What is capable of restoring enthusiasm and confidence, what can encourage the human spirit to rediscover its path, to raise its eyes to the horizon, to dream a life worthy of its vocation–if not beauty? . . . the experience of beauty, beauty that is authentic, not merely transient or artificial, is by no means a supplementary or secondary factor in our search for meaning and happiness; the experience of beauty does not remove us from reality, on the contrary, it leads to a direct encounter with the daily reality of our lives, liberating it form darkness, transfiguring it, making it radiant and beautiful. [You can read the rest of the address here.]

Though this was addressed particularly to artists, I am convinced of the importance of all of us having this mind in the living of our daily lives.  We can all be “custodians of beauty” (Paul VI) wherever we are.  Even if all we do–and by no means of little importance–if all we do is constantly invite the Holy Spirit to make of our souls a thing of beauty, we will be a worthy custodian of beauty.  We each need contact with beauty ourselves, true beauty, that is–art, music, poetry, literature, nature, people–and we each need to be purveyors of beauty to those around us.  And, as we do this, I think we will discover that link that Pope Benedict spoke of between beauty and hope.

Need I say that most of all we need to long for the beauty of God, a longing that will not be fulfilled until we see Him face to face.    “The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing . . .to find the place where all the beauty came from.” (C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces)And isn’t that what Advent is all about?

I would be interested in where you find beauty: what books you’ve read, how you bring beauty into your homes, etc.  Please feel free to comment.

Loving Love and Beauty seeing

A beautiful poem on beauty by one of our sisters, Sr. Stacy Whitfield:


I love your wild extravagance,
          mountain flower and autumn leaves
Endowed with lovely lavishness,
          making much of what none sees.

Yet surely you would not adorn
          with greater glory grassy hills
Than sons and daughters made for joy
           and destined for more beauty still.

Oh give me hope to lift my soul
           to beauties that yet lie unseen,
That wait beyond the shimm’ring veil,
           awaiting Dawn’s eternity.

The wondrous views of heaven’s scope
           from which earth’s grand reflection springs,
The beauty that is fairer still
           than all your earthly artistry.

Oh give me faith and love to long
           to see all beauty’s heavenly source,
From which all loveliness is flowing,
           river-like upon its course.

The fullness of all beauty there
          on which to gaze to soul’s delight,
A heart all pure, a form all fair,
          the fountainhead of love, of light.

I shall abide in blissful rest,
          loving Love and Beauty seeing,
Taking in your loveliness
          with opened eyes, with transformed being.

                                          ©Sr. Stacy Whitfield (revised February 3, 1991)

God’s look of love

Fr. Conrad de Meester says God has no needs, but if He did, it would be to love . . .

Rate this:

Continuing from yesterday.  

St. John of the Cross has three chapters in his Spiritual Canticle in which he writes about God’s look of love.  It is God looking at us in love that makes us lovable and beautiful.  “With God, to gaze at is to love.” (SC 31.5)  And it is in His looking at us, loving us unconditionally, that we, in turn, become beautiful. 

By infusing his grace in the soul, God makes it worthy and capable of his love.  (SC 32.5)

He does not love things because of what they are in themselves.  With God, to love the soul is to put her somehow in himself and to make her his equal. (SC 32.6)

St. John says that God’s gaze of love produces four things in our souls: “it cleanses, endows with grace, enriches, and illumines.” (SC 33.1)   And as God gazes on us–as we let ourselves be gazed upon–we become beautiful, and then that beauty draws His gaze even more towards us, and the more He gazes upon us, the more beautiful we become, and so on and so on.  “When God beholds the soul made attractive through grace, he is impelled to grant her more grace.” (SC 33.7)

Who can express how much God exalts the soul that pleases him? [And remember we please Him best when we let Him look at us with His love.]  Who can express how much God exalts the soul that pleases him?  It is impossible to do so, nor can this even be imagined, for after all, he does this as God, to show who he is. (SC 33.8) [emphasis added]

God is Love.  For Him to be is to love.  So the more we let Him, give Him permission, turn our souls toward Him, the more we are letting Him be God, so to speak.

Fr. Conrad de Meester says God has no needs, but if He did, it would be to love . . .    So let Him love you . . .

The Christian life is not a beauty pageant

God “did not love us to leave us to our ugliness but to change us and, disfigured as we were, to make us beautiful.” (Augustine)

Rate this:

I don’t know about you, but most of my life growing up I never considered myself as beautiful.  None of my girl friends really were either.  We weren’t part of the homecoming court or a cheerleader.  So what to do with all that I’ve been sharing about beauty?  Hopefully, most of us have made the important transition in our thinking to the realization that beauty is more than skin deep, as they say.  It’s the beauty of the soul, of the spirit that is most important.
      Unfortunately, too many of us who “know that in our heads” still feel like we fall short.  We don’t feel all that beautiful in our souls.  But the Christian life is not a beauty pageant.  Our beauty comes from within, from God who dwells within us.  St. Augustine says in one of his commentaries:

What then is this love that makes the loving soul beautiful?  God, who is always beautiful, who never loses his beauty, who never changes: he loved us first, he who is always beautiful.  And what were we when he loved us if not ugly and disfigured?  But he did not love us to leave us to our ugliness but to change us and, disfigured as we were, to make us beautiful.

It’s almost like sunbathing. We turn ourselves toward Him, and it is He who makes us beautiful.  We just need to be there in His presence.  It’s the sun that makes us tan; it’s the Son who makes us beautiful.  It’s not what we do, but what He does.  Fr. Blaise Arminjon in his Cantata of Love addresses this very point in his commentary on Song of Songs 4.1 “How beautiful you are, my love, how beautiful you are”:

This is why the Bride [and we are each His bride] would be quite wrong in worrying whether she is truly lovable or not or worthy or not of love since all her beauty is made of her resemblance to her Bridegroom, whole holy face was engraved in her since the very first day and wants to be more and more deeply engraved in her.  Thérèse of Lisieux understands this very well when she reads this verse of the Song: ‘Adorable face of Jesus, only beauty ravishing my heart, deign to imprint on me your divine resemblance so that you may not be able to look into my soul without seeing yourself.’

To be continued tomorrow . . .

Jacques Fesch

The power of music.

Rate this:

I am currently reading the prison letters of Jacques Fesch (book details above under “Books to read – biographies”), a self-described juvenile delinquent, found guilty of robbery and murder, but subsequently gave his life fully to Christ.  A very inspiring read.  His cause for canonization is now open.  The thing I wanted to share here is a paragraph from a letter in which he described a bit of what his life was life before conversion.  (Read it, and then I’ll comment on what struck me.)

Jacques Fesch

During the six or seven years when I lived without faith, I did evil, much evil, less through deliberate malice than through heedlessness, egoism and hardness of heart.  I was incapable of loving anyone.  Father, mother, wife, child–I was indifferent to them all.  I felt no warmth of emotion for anyone or anything, unless perhaps it was music. (p.32)

It was that last phrase that struck me–and reminded me of the then Cardinal Ratzinger’s reflections in my previous post about the power of music.  It wasn’t music that brought about Fesch’s conversion, but it is striking to me that that was the only thing he mentioned as evoking any emotion in him at that time in his life.  Music, reflecting the true beauty of God, is extremely powerful.  I think of pieces like Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” which I had the privilege of hearing performed in a Scottish cathedral years ago, or Rachmaninov’s liturgical pieces that move one’s heart to worship. 

What music moves you to greater love of God?

“A clean and shining beauty of soul”

Mary has “a clean and shining beauty of soul.”

Rate this:

I can’t write about beauty without, of course, saying something about Mary, the Mother of God, who as John Saward says: “In face and grace, Mary is like Jesus.”

umilen3St. Cyril of Alexandria calls our Lady kallitokos as well as theotokos, “bearer of Him who is true beauty” as well as “bearer of Him who is true God.”

Grace, as the poet [Hopkins] says, is “God’s better beauty,” the splendor of the soul . . . “O pure Theotokos”, sings the Byzantine Church on the feast of the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple, “thou hast a clean and shining beauty of soul, and art filled from Heaven with the grace of God” (the Festal Menaion).  Grace conforms the soul into the likeness of Christ.  So it is with Mary.

       (John Saward, The Holiness of Beauty and the Beauty of Holiness, p. 122)

“. . . where all the beauty came from”

Last night as I walked out of the chapel at the end of our time of adoration, this phrase from C.S. Lewis was running through my head: “The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing . . . to find the place where all the beauty came from.”  Those of us who know Him know that place–the where that is a Who.

There is not and cannot be anything more beautiful and more perfect than Christ.  (Dostoevsky)

He alone is ravishing in the full strength of the term . . . beauty itself.  (St. Therese, Letter 76)

Yes, the Face of Jesus is luminous, but if in the midst of wounds and tears it is already so beautiful, what will it be, then, when we shall see it in heaven?  Oh heaven . . . heaven.  Yes, to contemplate the marvelous beauty of Jesus [. . . ] (St. Therese, Letter 195)

The face of Christ is the human face of God.  The Holy Spirit rests upon him and reveals to us absolute Beauty, a divine-human Beauty that no art can ever properly and fully make visible.  Only the icon can suggest such Beauty by means fo the Taboric light.  (Paul Evdokimov, The Art of the Icon, p. 13.)

Christ is beautiful, and He comes to restore us to beauty.  (John Saward, The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty, p. 56)

Make time today to turn your face towards this place–Him from Whom all the beauty comes from.

“Nothing is lost in Him.”

“The personal history of each one of us is precious to him. . . . Nothing is lost in him.” (Maria Boulding)

Rate this:

I’m still thinking about that 20 minute movie I recommended yesterday.  (I had a chance to watch it again last night with Sr. Sarah.)  This extract from a book by Maria Boulding is another attempt at expressing the point of the movie:

The personal history of each one of us is precious to him.  He is more willing to forgive our sins than we are to ask forgiveness, and he is well able to redeem our deficiencies too.  We shall not spend eternity kicking ourselves for opportunities lost, grace wasted and love refused. How he can make these things good is beyond our understanding, but in some way the whole of it will be taken up into Christ.  Some lines scribbled in the margin of a fourteenth-century manuscript convey an unknown scribe’s insight into this mystery:
                           He abideth patiently,
                           he understandeth mercifully,
                           he forgiveth easily,
                           he forgetteth utterly.
All the positive things will be taken up into Christ, to be saved in all their reality and transfigured in him: the love that we have given and received, the moments of aching beauty, the longing and the pain, the laughter and surprise, the plain plodding on . . . . Nothing is lost in him.  All the great loves, all the heroism, all the struggle to make life more human, all the wrong turnings people have taken in their search, the times when a light more than human seemed for a while to play over human lives and those lives became legend, the poetry of the particular, the unrepeatable beauty, the fidelity to a vision that demanded all.  In Christ all these things will be affirmed and redeemed, to become part of our shared joy, and his.  (Maria Boulding, The Coming of God, p. 161)