When have you recently experienced beauty? What are some of your most beautiful experiences? Before you answer let me explain what I am asking. I am not asking when you saw something you thought was beautiful. I am not asking about physical beauty, the outward appearance of people or things. I’m asking about moments and situations in which you experienced and participated in beauty not so much with your eyes or your mind but with your heart. I am taking about those times when “the beautiful meets us and we know it intimately” (Evdokimov, The Art of the Icon, p. 20), not as an object but as a presence greater than ourselves. We are grasped and enfolded by the beauty and it shapes and forms our lives leaving us forever changed.
The beauty that I am speaking of cannot be defined. It can only be encountered and experienced. It’s more than what our words can describe but is often named by our tears. I’m sure you’ve all had those times when the beauty of the moment fills your eyes with tears and all you can say is, “It’s just so beautiful.” I can’t explain what I mean by beauty or how it happens so let me just tell you some of my experiences of beauty. Perhaps that will prompt or help you to recognize and recall some of your own. I hope it does.
I remember the night my younger son was born and the nurse placed him in my hands and said that I could carry him to the nursery. I saw his face for the first time. I heard his cry. I touched his little wrinkled fingers. But there was so much more than what I was seeing, hearing, or touching. I had been enveloped in beauty. More than twenty years ago I knelt before Cyndy one afternoon and asked her to marry me. I looked in her eyes. I felt her hands in mine. I heard her say yes. But there was more. Beauty had wrapped itself around us. I will never forget the day we buried our older son. After we came home from the cemetery I was lying awake on the bed and suddenly he was there. He was a little boy and I was giving him a piggyback ride. I could feel the weight and warmth of his body on my back. I felt his right knee gouging my ribs as he bounced up and down. It was breathtakingly beautiful. I know a couple who has been married probably sixty years. For several years one of them has had some serious medical challenges. The other is always there; patient, gentle, caring, attentive. I love way they talk to and about each other, the way they look at each other, the way he teases her and the way she corrects him. When I am with them I know that I am standing in the midst of beauty. There’s a little girl, about two years old, who comes up here for communion. As soon as she steps up to the altar rail she smiles, opens her mouth, reaches out her hands, and begins bouncing. Beauty is making itself known. About a month ago I took several pictures of Cyndy and me from our sabbatical, made a movie, and set it to music. We watched and wept together, enraptured by beauty. One Thursday a few weeks ago I stood at the back door of the chapel and gave the dismissal for the Holy Eucharist. I went outside to visit with the people as they left. When I went back in the chapel there was a sweet fragrance. It had not been there before and it wasn’t perfume. Beauty was present. It was the fragrance of beauty.
This is happening all the time. These stories aren’t about just me. They are about beauty. Neither are they only my stories. They’re your stories too. We all have them. We are always waking up to the presence of beauty in ourselves, each other, and the world. How could it be otherwise when one of the divine names, one of the names for God, is “The Beautiful One?” Why wouldn’t The Beautiful One make himself known through and regularly invite us to participate in beauty? Holy Scripture tells us that the Creator looked at all creation and declared it to be “very good,” but did you know that the Hebrew word translated as good also means beautiful? What does it say about us that we have been created in the image and likeness of The Beautiful One?
Here’s what I think all this means. We have been created with an eye for beauty. We are to live with an eye for beauty. We are to see ourselves and one another with an eye for beauty. An eye for beauty opens us to the transfiguring presence of God in every human being, in our lives, and in our world. Beauty connects us to our truest and most authentic self and it is available to all who keep awake.
Read the rest here.