It takes courage and perseverance to walk this journey, but it is filled with a peace the world cannot give and a boundless and profound beauty leading to eternal glory in Heaven.
We were created to gaze upon endless, eternal beauty. All of us were born with an unrelenting, deep thirst that will never be satisfied fully in this life. In His great love for us, our Father in Heaven surrounds us with such intoxicating beauty that it seems almost incomprehensible that in eternity we will gaze upon a beauty far beyond what we experience and see now.
We find beauty in creation: magnificent sunsets, waves crashing upon the shore, fields resplendent with wildflowers, gentle rainstorms, and the majestic night sky almost dancing by the brilliantly lit cosmos to name just a few. As we gaze upon nature, we drink it in to soothe the aching need for beauty within our souls. Aesthetic beauty touches each of our senses; the sight of God’s created nature; listening to the exquisite music of the greatest composers or the sound of the wind whistling through the pines. We are enchanted by the sweet, pervasive scent wafting through the rose garden and we delight in the taste of a fresh peach off the tree or succulent grape from the vine. We are drawn most profoundly into the beauty we see in one another.
Yet as fulfilling as these are on a natural and human level… we still want more. Aesthetic beauty becomes transcendental beauty in that the more we experience and come to know aesthetic beauty, the more we contemplate it and dwell on it again and again. This contemplative knowing must lead us to the Creator of this beauty, Who is Beauty itself. In other words, as we take in and absorb beauty within ourselves, we are drawn deeply into prayer with God. As Dante writes, “Heat cannot be separated from fire, or beauty from The Eternal.”
There was a young woman, not particularly religious, who was utterly captivated during a performance at the symphony. She experienced a sublime inner fulfillment. She questioned deeply within herself, “What is it that is filling me so completely?” Initially she thought it was just the music moving her, but she was surprised to hear the answer from her innermost depths, “God.” She realized that someone outside of herself — who was even more beautiful than the music that filled her heart — loved her and all that mattered was Him. Thus began the transformation process within her soul.
God longs for us…each one of us. He Himself is an endless thirst for union with us, His children. On our earthly pilgrimage, we engage — freely and zealously — in the transformation needed for this union. It is a lifelong journey where He is relentlessly inviting us to encounter Him now in this life. He will use every means to quench our deepest thirst that He alone can fill. It takes courage and perseverance to walk this journey, but it is filled with a peace the world cannot give and a boundless and profound beauty leading to eternal glory in Heaven.
As a child, do you remember lying down on the grass, feeling the blades tickle your neck and arms, the wind lightly blowing across your face and looking above into the sky? Was it not an exciting moment in time wondering how the clouds were moving across the sky, or finding shapes or “animals” in the clouds? Or maybe you remember the little grey bugs that curled up into a ball when you picked one up? Or how about the delight in picking a dandelion, making a wish and blowing on it so that the little fuzzy seeds blew away in the wind?
Each of us has many memories of the wonders of childhood. We need not lose that wonder as adults; in fact, it should mature as all the other developmental processes mature. Embracing wonder in each moment transforms our whole life into an awareness of the beauty that envelops us and leads us into gratitude and praise to the Father who gives us everything. We see everything around us as a gift from the Lord and our souls are lifted up in wonder and awe.
The highest purpose of beauty is that it reveals something about the Creator to us. Hans Urs von Balthasar states, “Every experience of beauty points to Infinity.” In sacred art, this is more obvious as the imagery itself lifts us into prayer. Yet, in all created things, He imprints His image upon it. We may “see” His gentleness in a stream flowing through the countryside or His power and might in a lightning storm. By His grace, as we become transformed more and more into Him, we see this image in all the little things. We may notice a drop of dew on the leaf and we thank Him for His continuous presence, or a gentle breeze reminds us that every breath we take is His gift of life within us. St. Therese prayed that every beat of her heart was to be an act of love to the Lord.
On a deeper level, our contemplative gaze enables us to see His image in one another. We may understand intellectually that all humans are created in His image and are instilled with a sublime dignity. Looking into the luminous and innocent eyes of a five year old is almost mesmerizing and the lingering of the divine enfolds us. But it takes faith, charity and a firm will to gaze upon each person in our lives and see the beauty of Christ Himself dwelling there amidst the weak and wounded human condition we generally see. Transcending (this rising above means going deeper within) the beauty of each soul leads us into a loving communion with one another and simultaneously a loving union with the Lord until we love without limit.
Finally, on the most profound level, we search for and discover the beauty of God in the Holy Eucharist. With the Psalmist we sing: “One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek; to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the Lord’s beauty, to visit His temple.” The beauty of the Liturgy enables us to penetrate the deepest mystery of God and actually share in the communion of the Blessed Trinity with the Mystical Body of Christ. In the Liturgy, we pray with Christ in praising the Father and thus experience a taste of eternal glory… the delights of heavenly beauty. Whether in consuming the Sacred Host or gazing upon Him in adoration, He quenches our deepest need for His presence within us.
The beauty we experience around us — poured out in abundance each day — is a pure gift from the Father. The Father gives every good thing to His children. He knows this beauty will delight and bring us joy. Yet, even more amazing is that He reveals something about Himself to each person that is uniquely and personally meaningful for that individual. Through beauty He is constantly relating to us, showing us how close He really is — that we are never alone — and that He provides everything, absolutely everything, we need. Although our souls clamor incessantly now in this life, the beauty He showers upon us reminds us that in eternity every thirst will be quenched and we will gaze endlessly upon Infinite Beauty.
Sister Francis Marie, O.C.D.
Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles
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Alhambra, California 91801