Espousal to beauty,
the gift of intimacy in love,
present and alive as a fire
in every moment and in every thing.
Prayer itself is like the peak,
the place where eyes can gaze on everything else,
seeing all illumined by a radiant light.
And yet prayer is not, in this way,
one moment among many others, alone,
but a reality that inundates every moment
in order to transform them all from deep within.
Really, my God, in the end all is prayer,
since prayer penetrates all there is
and gives it, indeed, its deepest meaning,
carrying it into the place it is meant to be.
What, then, is prayer,
and how does it effect this,
this awesome transformation?
It seems to me that at its inmost heart
prayer is simple acceptance of the gift,
welcoming of heart and life
of the gratuitous love, Father,
ever flowing from your loving hands.
This is the truth, the reality, the beauty
that flows like a gentle stream into all else,
or falls like a hidden rain, nourishing,
or sometimes, indeed, pours like a torrent
to renew and give life to the most arid place,
to reveal the seeds of goodness, beauty, truth
that are alive in every moment, bringing them to life.
In the busy hours of the day,
working away at the computer,
or busying oneself with hammer, nails, and saw,
or answering the phone, scanning people’s groceries,
running errands here and there,
holding pencil, paintbrush, the tools of art…
in all of these things, my God,
there is a reality that is inviting us,
that seeks to draw us beyond the surface
—often only aware of the task and responsibility
that these things seem to be for us—
and to reveal to us that all, indeed, is pure gift,
and only thus is it also entrusted as stewardship.
Stewardship, conceived in the womb of prayer-love,
and made to bear fruit through birth-pangs of activity,
this too is nothing but pure gift, gift’s expression,
flowing forth through the humble transparency of my life
to penetrate into the lives and hearts of others, God,
through your own ever-descending grace,
and to draw them, in love, back to you.
The example of art is so helpful here,
because, in a certain way,
art is the most profound form of activity,
yet every form of activity is a form of art.
The whole of our lives, and each moment within,
is a masterpiece within your loving hands, my God,
and you invite us humbly to place our hands in your own,
to deliver our lives into your care,
so that they may express the masterpiece that you will,
the masterpiece of beauty you are always bringing about.
What is it that makes all activity art,
and art such a deep form of action,
and, yes, life itself a work of art?
It is because here the union of gift and fruit,
of contemplative gazing and its expression in act,
is most transparent, pure, and direct.
One simply cannot create a work of art
without keeping one’s eyes on the beauty seen,
indeed, without remaining in the realm of beauty’s gift,
falling, instead, into mere doing in responsibility,
a mere rote and routine activity.
If beauty is to flow, to ravish the heart,
then it must remain always at the wellspring of pure gift.
How, though, is this same truth to abide,
and with the same intensity, in the rote activity,
so apparently obscured as a gift,
that is placed on so many of us within our world?
Where is the deep meaning here,
the beauty alive within the lowliness of act,
the expression of gift in external activity?
Thorns and thistles the earth will yield,
you said, Father, to Adam after his sin,
and you will toil by the sweat of your brow.
We experience this, my God, every day,
feeling so clearly our divorce from the wellspring of gift.
But when we look, in this way,
on the beauty from which we have fallen,
the stewardship that is now divorced
from the pure, undemanding, gratuitous gift,
we can also glimpse the way back,
yes, the gift that, perhaps obscured,
is nonetheless alive and aflame in every thing.
In the end, Father, love alone remains,
and it is love alone that matters,
making each thing, whatever it may be,
a gift, a work of art, flowing from your hands,
and there returning.
Yes, this is the deeper truth
at which the beauty of art only hints,
the radiance of pure goodness and holiness
shining out from the flesh of every person,
from the world, God, which you have given,
awakening in us the only enduring thing.
A single act of true love
is more beautiful, more good, more sacred,
than even the greatest materpiece.
Indeed, it is itself this masterpiece,
something born from your own Love, God,
expressing the beauty that is yours,
heart responding to heart, beauty to beauty,
impelling our hearts thus back to you.
The gift of our activity, therefore,
as mundane and burdensome as, on the surface,
it may be, is the beautiful opportunity
to lay hold of the beauty alive in every thing,
in the hearts of those to whom we are bound,
to take it up into working, loving, praying hands,
into the very furnace of the heart’s own prayer,
longing without ceasing for you, God of love,
and to return it, this fractured yet living seed,
back to the realm of gift from which it has come.