.- As Americans prepare to view a total solar eclipse passing from Oregon to South Carolina, the director of the Vatican observatory has reflected on what the event can teach us about God and his creation.
An eclipse “reminds us of the immense beauty in the universe that occurs outside of our own petty set of concerns,” Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, told Time magazine. “It pulls us out of ourselves and makes us remember that we are part of a big and glorious and beautiful universe.”
Brother Guy is in Hopkinsville, Ky., 80 miles southwest of Owensboro, one of the places where the Aug. 21 total eclipse will last the longest.
The eclipse reflects that “God chose to make a universe that was rational, so that we could predict these eclipses with enormous precision,” he said.
In addition, it shows that God made creation beautiful: “it is not only that the eclipse occurs just when it is supposed to, but that, along with the delight that our calculations are right, there is the delight at seeing the beauty that comes, that we can experience, while we are underneath this eclipse.”
“Youtuber WildWingsLA has a special birdbath setup specifically for hummingbirds outside their Beverly Hills home. Known for being territorial, it’s rare to see so many birds at once, but at times the frame fills with dozens of them. Fun fact: a group of a hummingbirds is called a charm. (via Laughing Squid)”
This is a guest post by Timothy Chapman. Timothy grew up in southern Illinois. He has degrees in English, history, and divinity and is currently a youth minister in St. Louis, MO. A version of this essay was first published at the website Here Is a Place.
My days, like many of yours, I bet, are usually spent in the busyness at hand, of to-do lists and iCal checks, of tickets to pay and shirts to drop off at the cleaners, of downloading apps to help with efficiency and drowning out spare silences by checking emails and playing three minutes and twenty-seven seconds of a podcast. Stoplights are often the biggest pause in the oppressive constancy of hours packed to the brim.
But I am a napper. I would take a 22 minute nap everyday if I could–and I try my hardest to could. Falling asleep is not one of my strong suits when the night is on and the the moon is present shining. But there is something magically conducive to sleep that happens at about 2:00 pm most days that enables me to stretch cross-legged on my back and drift off to a moment of refreshment.
A few weeks ago, I lay down one afternoon to take a nap and threw a red blanket over me. As it drifted down onto the white sheet of my bed, it made such a bold, solid contrast that I was struck for a moment with what felt like hope. This is what white sheets are for: to remind us of broad fields drifted with snow, of clouds so full the crisp blue sky is but a background, of Easter vestments pure and extraordinary, trimmed in gold and heavenly. In this moment, simple white sheets imparted to me the hope of soiled garments washed in crimson blood that are made white as wool and radiant. They gave me hope that things don’t have to remain as they are, that I don’t have to remain as I am, but that one day, I too shall be clothed in the robes of heaven.
In my room full of furniture and books, the ceiling fan whirred overhead, and the gentle afternoon sunlight steadily warmed the houseplants on the window sill. However struck I was in this moment, I fell asleep quickly, and the profound beauty of that suddenly deep sense of hope was dulled upon waking by a return to the preoccupations of the day.
Why does beauty (especially of such a common and simple sort) instill hope? How does the contrast of a block of red on a simple white background impart peace to my weary mind even more strikingly than the fleeting freedom of a deep breath?
It’s said that faith, hope, and charity fill the voids, respectively, of doubt, despair, and pride, that these six antitheses can all dwell in various measure within each of us, but that we tend to struggle particularly with one of the pairs. For me, it’s hope. Hope seems truly like a thing with feathers, flitting away at any opportunity. So often, the world seems overcome by such hideousness, falsehood, and evil that all else seems eclipsed or at least dimmed by this darkness hovering in the ether.
Hope is so compelling because I struggle to have much–not all the time, of course, but it seems more difficult for me to hope than to have faith or even love. So, the beauty of a gray spring mist over rolling mountains, the truth in a friend’s honest eyes, the goodness in stories of people who give their lives for the sake of others each offer me a foothold against the slippery face of despair. The littlest things of beauty, truth, and goodness show us something beyond our hard hearts, our tears, our stubborn dispositions, and give us a glimpse of the virtues we long to see in ourselves and in our world.
No matter how subtly these lights may flicker, at times they are arresting. I need to step into these times more and more. I need to let sheets and rain and tired laughter seep deeper into my heart and begin to clear away the choking fog of all that’s “not the way it’s supposed to be.” Perhaps if I give these magical scenes their due, hope will begin to prove itself, to multiply. This is not the power of positive thinking. This is finding real, solid evidence, reasons to have hope because it’s already there, shimmering and patient.
Here is a place for surrendering our emotions to momentary beauty, for celebrating the goodness in justice fighters across the world, for feeling beyond the sting of truth and into its pleasant healing. If you struggle to love yourself or others, pay attention to those times when you are struck by the organized complexity of truth. When faith feels out of reach or impossible, cling to the kindness in a stranger’s hand. Because, for all its faults, even now, this earth, right here is a place for hope.
from Dappled Things
It is common to link the good, the true, and the beautiful; this is proper because truth is beautiful and a very high good. But as with most insights, some distinctions are necessary, because while truth is always beautiful, not everyone or everything that appears to be beautiful is thereby true.
St. Augustine comments on this, saying,
Beauty is indeed a good gift of God; but that the good may not think it a great good, God dispenses beauty even to the wicked (The City of God, XV, 22).
Essentially, St. Augustine is distinguishing physical beauty from spiritual beauty, teaching us that we can become too focused on lesser beauty and thereby neglect higher beauty and goods.
Physical beauty, though defined somewhat differently by different people, does exist and is a gift of God to behold. It is possible, however, to esteem it too much, failing to realize that spiritual beauty — truth, goodness, holiness, and God Himself — is a far greater gift. God signals the limits of physical beauty by sometimes bestowing it on those who seem undeserving, in order to teach us that it is a limited and often transitory good.
Scripture cautions, Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is praised (Proverbs 31:30). Both men and women are cautioned that charm and physical beauty, while pleasant, can easily deceive us into concluding too much. In our highly visual and noisy culture we are too easily influenced by the views of movie stars, singers, sports figures, and others among the cultural elite. Swayed by the fact that they are attractive, or sing beautifully, or act well, we too easily ascribe intellectual and moral authority to them which they have not merited.
St. Augustine continues,
And thus beauty, which is indeed God’s handiwork, but only a temporal, carnal, and lower kind of good, is not fitly loved in preference to God, the eternal, spiritual, and unchangeable good.
The problem is not with beauty but with us.
So, Augustine adds,
When the miser prefers gold to justice, it is through no fault of the gold, but of the man; and so with every created thing.
Enjoy the good things of God, but never in preference to the very God who made them. In our fallen condition, we are easily deceived by beauty. As St. Augustine notes, the problem is not in the beauty; the problem is in us. Stay sober, my friends!
“May your art help to affirm that true beauty which, as a glimmer of the Spirit of God, will transfigure matter, opening the human soul to the sense of the eternal.” (St. John Paul II)
Guaranteed to make you smile.