As some of you know, I am working on a new book. Basically it’s on beauty and the spiritual life. It’s only about half written—and my deadline is April 1. So, I ask your prayers that the Holy Spirit may perch upon my shoulder and direct my thoughts and words!
Today I would like to share an excerpt from my book with you. This is from the chapter tentatively entitled “What Effect Does Beauty Have on Us?” It begins with this quote: To call something beautiful is not just to describe it, but to react to it. (Gordon Graham)
Two old friends were walking down the road one evening when they began to argue. As they went along they shouted at one another as each tried to impose his view upon the other. The longer they argued, the angrier they became. Suddenly, one of them caught sight of the setting sun. He pointed it out to his friend. Immediately the men ceased their arguing.
They stood side by side in silence, gazing at the wonder and beauty of the sunset. Several minutes later, when the sun had slipped beneath the horizon, the two friends started on their way again. Only now, having forgotten what they had been arguing about, they walked together cheerfully and at peace with one another.
Beauty affects us. It causes a reaction in us. In this case the beauty of the sunset made the men stop walking. It silenced them. It engaged them. And in the end, it brought peace between them.
[I then discuss beauty’s effect on the human brain and our psychological well-being. I give examples of beauty’s power to slow us down.]
Beauty’s power to lure people from their ordinary tasks is demonstrated every time there is a solar eclipse. When this phenomenon occurs, millions of people leave work, gather in public places, and don special glasses to take in the mystery and beauty of such an event. A harvest moon will likewise entice people out of their cozy homes to get a better look at the giant orangish orb. The sighting of an eagle or a blue heron also tempts people to stop and stare. A good question to ask ourselves is this: What kind of beauty do we pause for?
Studies have also shown that beauty can lift our spirits and ease our stress. A visit to the art museum, attendance at a concert, a stroll along a beach, the taste of a favorite meal, the face of a happy child, or the sight of a mother duck swimming with her brood of ducklings–all have a way of lifting our hearts and calming our spirits.
Beauty can also unite us with other people. We feel at one whether we are watching the bursting of fireworks on the Fourth of July, cheering for our favorite sports’ team, gazing up at the launching of a rocket, or singing our favorite carols at Christmas Mass. Yes, beauty has the power to unite us as few other things can.
[I then describe how beauty can be a pathway to God. I include some reflective questions and conclude with a prayer and a suggested video.]
How have you felt the power of beauty in your life?
What kind of beauty do you pause for?
Have you ever experienced beauty uniting you with other people?
PS: Here are a few of the places I will be giving talks or retreats. I’ll be posting these on my events calendar soon. You can check out the websites for details:
April 3, 2020 – Speaker at the Lorain First Friday Club luncheon, “Hanging onto Hope in Our Imperfect World”; Lorain Community College, 11:30-1:00.
June 20-26, 2020 – Retreat at St. Cyril Spiritual Center, Danville, PA: “How Can I Keep from Singing?”
July 13-20, 2020 – Retreat at King’s House Retreat Center, Belleville, IL: “How Can I Keep from Singing?”
August 7-9, 2020 – Weekend retreat at Christ the King Retreat Center, Buffalo, MN: “Wonder, Love, Courage, and Hope.”
September 11-13, 2020 – Weekend retreat at Benet House at St. Mary Monastery, Rock Island, IL: “Four gifts of Autumn: Beauty, Letting Go, Harvest, and Hope.”
October 2-5, 2020 – Weekend retreat at Mount St. Joseph Conference & Retreat Center, Maple Mount, KY: “Holding onto Hope.”
December 11-13, 2020 – Weekend Advent retreat, St. Francis Renewal Center, Bethlehem, PA.
Our video is entitled “For the Beauty of the Earth” with lyrics by John Rutter and performed by the St. Phillips’ Boys’ Choir.
Please feel free to respond to this reflection below: