It has been said
that beauty will save the world.
This, my Father, I believe is true,
and yet the question is: what beauty?
I know and feel deep in my heart
the beauty that our world seeks,
for I, too, thirst for it unquenchably,
and, yes, I have been granted to drink.
But how can I express it in words,
and how can my life manifest it?
Our world is so preoccupied with beauty,
but often times calling by this name
things which are not truly beautiful,
or grasping for beauty in a way
that deeply debases it.
For beauty is something sacred
which unveils itself before reverent eyes
and gently touches the receptive heart.
But when beauty is debased
to mere pleasure, to stimulation,
and to the experience of the senses’ titillation,
then the true unveiling of mystery,
this exterior radiance of the inner form…
this simply no longer occurs.
In a world so overstimulated
with images and sounds
and with experiences of all kinds,
we have forgotten how to be still,
to silently contemplate and receive.
Then, living so much on the surface level,
fragmented in mind and heart
—here and there and everywhere—
we can no longer lay bare
the senses, the mind, the soul,
to welcome what comes, gently,
only as a gift.
Then the heart, lifeless and numb
—yet still thirsting for beauty!—
gives itself to devouring and possessing,
as if one could eat beauty
and assimilate it to one’s own domination,
and could possess and control mystery.
But no, my Father,
beauty is still a sacred radiance
of your own undying truth,
even when the eyes of those who perceive,
and of those who manifest it,
no longer know how to see.
There is beauty in art, in nature,
beauty in what the eyes perceive,
whether fashioned by your creative hands
or by the creativity of man.
There is beauty in what the ears perceive,
vibrations of a deeper, eternal truth.
Even in our world, so broken,
hearts still have the desire, and capacity,
to taste and to experience this.
When the heart is washed over with emotion
and is moved to tears at music;
when a mysterious joy wells up within
at the beauty of the setting sun;
when a little child’s tender smile
lights up a mother’s eyes;
when a young man and woman
sit together with one another, talking.
But this sacred mystery so often
remains hidden behind the veil
of our own insensitive incomprehension.
And what yearns to give itself as mystery
into the receptiveness of reverent humility
often must conceal itself
from sacrilege committed by possessive hearts.
Yes, a man who looks at images
of women’s bodies, unclothed,
is not looking in reverent love,
but letting himself be debased
by the atrocious sacrilege he commits
by abusing, with lustful eyes,
the beauty of a woman’s figure.
This is not because there is not
a true beauty there in what he sees,
but rather that he is seeing much too little,
(and thus too much out of place)
taking the excitement of the flesh
(the most superficial of all encounters)
and divorcing it from the truth in which it dwells.
For is there even such a thing,
in general, as a “woman’s body”?
The simple answer, of course, is no.
There is only the body
of this unique daughter of God…
friend, sister, mother, spouse.
And what shows through the flesh
is but a glimpse of the deeper mystery
—that unique and unrepeatable majesty—
that God sees in looking on her.
This lustful vision, so debased by pornography
and by the sex-saturation of our world,
is but a very keen symptom (and a cause)
of the wider distortion of our culture.
For in this deeply sensitive place,
the flesh which wants to reveal the spirit,
our attitude toward all beauty and mystery
is revealed for what it is.
What, then, Father, is the answer?
Where, then, lies our hope?
At this point, Father, I don’t know
how to make the connection
between this and what,
through your grace,
I have come to know.
I suppose I can only speak
from the heart of my experience—
and gradually trace my way back
from one beauty to the next,
from the beauty glimmering
in the eyes of your children
and shining out through creation
to the Beauty from which all beauty springs,
and that most mysterious of all Beauty,
which, I believe, alone truly has power
to touch, penetrate, and heal
our wounded hearts.
My experience of beauty, Father,
has been something inexpressible,
so tender and so mysterious from early on.
And I find that it has only grown,
and yet, sinking its roots deep into the heart,
has become austere in its majesty.
Indeed, it is so mysterious
that often it is impalpable,
possessing me rather than being possessed.
Beauty has pierced my heart, my soul,
and when beauty truly touches…
it always wounds deep within.
But this is a healing wound,
a beautiful pain,
which draws the heart out of itself
in longing for the fullness of what,
in this life, is only glimpsed.
In all forms of receptivity to beauty,
but especially in response to your children,
it is true that virgin-eyes alone can see:
eyes that are open to accept, to love,
to cherish and to hold,
and yet, in this acceptance,
refuse to possess or to control,
but rather surrender in reverence
and hold with open hands.
It makes me think of the Bridegroom
in the Song of Songs,
who is wounded by a single hair
fluttering at the neck of his beloved.
In my own life, too, I can say
that I have seen, and felt, more beauty
in the simple smile, the voice, the gaze
of one whom my heart loves
that in the exposure of the body
which is grasped by lustful eyes.
This is because through a single glance
the perceptive heart can discern the whole,
and the echo of her voice is enough
to reveal the whole of her person,
her mystery as she is known and loved by you.
I suppose this is part of the mystery of chastity,
that it learns to see the whole in the part,
that it welcomes the whole person
in a simple conversation,
or in just a silent gaze,
or even in the surging mystery of prayer
where hearts are knit together in the Heart of Christ.
And, really, it needs nothing more
until the fullness, in heaven, is unveiled.
In this way it bears the seeds of transformation
for which our world is desperately in need.
This is because, in seeing and experiencing less,
it learns, mysteriously, to experience so much more.
Here the wound of love, deep within the heart,
does not seek a passing experience,
or even a mere prolongation of a gaze,
but rather seeks—within your will,
and as it is given, Lord, by you—
the deepest, most authentic communion
with the person as they are,
in their identity, my God, in you.
Yes, chaste and loving eyes learn to see,
to see the whole of creation
reflecting the glory of your light.
And indeed they learn to see beauty,
and to be, by it, touched and wounded,
even where at first it may not appear.
For only a pure heart such as this
has a gaze that pierces through brokenness,
through the wounds which often cloak the heart
and make a person, to oneself or another,
appear to be ugly or unlovable.
For the truth is that every one,
in their deepest, authentic truth,
is ravishingly beautiful,
an image of your own Beauty
and a spouse of your Love.
Whatever ways human acts
have covered over this beauty, marring it,
it remains burning like a spark underneath.
It needs only to be seen, to be accepted,
and it can burst into flame again.
Here, Father, in an almost unexpected way,
I have come precisely to what, in the beginning,
I so much wanted to say.
When a world has lost its sensitivity to beauty
(and we really lost it in the Garden of Eden)
you must draw near to us and teach us again
to see the Beauty we can no longer see.
For how often we seek beauty
as a flight from the austerity of life.
How often we seek it
as a mere passing experience
which only washes out the heart the more.
And even in the purity of experience
—in those many little ways beauty shows itself
and draws the heart in longing for more—
even in this there is a restlessness
that is unsatisfied, and knows not where to seek…
or cannot draw into one and understand
the coexistence of beauty, of majesty,
and of atrocious evil and suffering
in a single world.
It is here, precisely here, my God,
that you so lovingly come to us.
You descend into the darkness of our life,
and you gently touch us,
pressing your fingers to our blinded eyes.
I am so filthy, so ugly! we cry,
and we try to turn away.
I am not precious, not beautiful.
Leave me, Lord, alone.
My beloved, my precious one,
you reply, do you not understand?
For me you are ravishingly beautiful,
with a beauty that draws my Heart.
I have been touched by this beauty
and it has drawn me even from heaven
to espouse you, forever, to myself.
But there is brokenness, there are wounds,
there are so many things, God,
that keep you away!
No, my child,
they do not keep me away from you,
but rather keep you away from me.
And you take your beloved in your arms,
covered with the filth of sin as she is.
You hold her in your embrace,
even in her aching woundedness
and in her paralyzing fear.
Loving her gently, unceasingly,
you slowly break through her anxiety;
you dissolve, with your gentle touch,
all the obstacles she places to you.
Yes, taking her, and all that she is,
upon yourself—into your Heart!—
you bear her sin and suffering to the end.
You yourself are raised up, naked, exposed,
upon the rough wood of the Cross.
But here your arms are extended,
your Heart opened, to welcome and to give.
“There was no form or beauty in him
that we should desire him,” Isaiah wrote.
But at the same time, my Jesus, you are
“the most beautiful of the children of men.”
In the very suffering of your Passion,
in the ugliness of your pain
—and deeper than it all,
indeed, enkindled in its midst—
you are the All Beautiful One,
ravishing in the glory of your mystery.
You teach us, in this place of austerity,
the truth of the Beauty that is undying,
unbreakable, and present in all things.
And in the beauty of your own self-giving
you unveil before us, reflected in your eyes,
in the gentle gaze that is fixed, unceasingly,
upon us as we are in truth—
you unveil before us, my Jesus Crucified,
the beauty that God sees…
and this is a beauty that ravishes the heart.
Beauty espouses itself to beauty,
and in this way liberates it
to become what, in you, it is.
Each one of us, my loving God,
needs to be loved as we are,
to be understood, reverenced, accepted,
in order to blossom from within
into the beauty that you see.