I was walking through the Cathedral, my eyes directed at the distant ceiling, the sounds of the congregation in the background of my mind. I was lost in what one might term awestruck wonder, the kind that I hope to never lose. I was there, focused on what I saw, and I began to think in rather odd terms: Beauty… and the Beast. You look at that and probably think, “What in the world?”
Sorry, sort of, I just go off on weird trains of thought that require much reining in, otherwise I end up further than one might expect. No, the words came to mind because of the Church. I am a visual creature, most men are, and I was drawn in, captivated in so many ways by what I saw. Bound by a love for the richness of art and design, I would be very hard pressed not to see something worthy of some sense of pause, some rich moment in which I give my utmost attention to the sight that fills my vision.
This is why I say Beauty… and the Beast. Because I am a beast, an odd creature most never quite grow accustomed to, random and tangential as I am at the strangest of times, in the least ideal environments. I am grim in the face of happiness, and full of laughter in the somber night. I am in opposition to what should be, yet I cannot escape my own nature. A nature which looks on, and watches, and remembers.
The beauty of the Church of course, while in one sense may refer to the physical building, on a deeper level refers to the people that are the Church. I think I’ve said before, that when I see something or someone beautiful, it’s very hard not to have a song spring to mind. Well there was a tune in my head again as I paced under the great ceiling, a song of rejoicing, of praise for the wonders of the Lord.
Beauty draws us in, we know this, on so many different levels. I might see the beauty of a woman, and in that moment, have a choice: To rejoice in its goodness, in her purpose so to speak of being a sign of God’s boundless love for us; or to twist it and capture it as my own, selfish in my grasping that which is not mine. Each time I encounter that choice, I think it is at its most dangerous when I forget that I have a choice in that instant. To see it as it was meant to be seen, for what it was intended, is something that I hope to always remember.
Speaking of remembering, the spring semester is over, it has been since Monday’s end for me. I confess, I had this sense of loss associated with the experience. Now, I might be glad that it’s over for a while, but there is that nagging feeling of a loss of purpose. I had something driving me, pushing me on with each passing moment. Perhaps that’s why I’ll appreciate work so much when it comes for me shortly. My skills will have their place, and I will remove myself from my wandering ways once more.
You see, I’ve had this dream that has captured me, to go out into the world, across the seas, and take the adventure that is given me. My purpose will be to walk where the great Saints walked, to tread on the ground where the great Marian apparitions occurred, perhaps meet with the order that was started by my Confirmation namesake, the Benedictines of Monte Cassino. Perhaps you’ve heard me say this before? It wouldn’t surprise me; I don’t think I ever really change, deep down. I’ve grown in some ways, both inside and out, but my spirit is as restless as ever.
A conundrum if you like, when I flit from one thing to the next. The grass may seem greener on the other side, but when I step onto it, it becomes the burden that I wish to escape. The thing is, true beauty is never something I wish to leave. It leads to a healing of the heart, when we immerse ourselves in it, surround ourselves with it. As my parish priest says, “We are called to worship in beauty.” It draws us deeper, pulls us in and out, paradoxically. Inward because we become more aware of ourselves in light of it, and outward, because it begs… wonder.
Now, the question then becomes, if beauty is so wondrous, and it leads to a healing of the heart by its effects, where then do we find this true beauty? We lead very ordinary lives, day in, day out. We reap the fruits that we sow, we chase the things that can be seen, and oftentimes we forsake the ability to pause and reflect in and on the moment. It’s simply impossible to fully leave the world and live in the heart of the Church, unless you go with say, a contemplative religious order, and love the Lord in that way.
No, for us, the ordinary folk, finding that true beauty is in many ways, a more difficult path. A divided call. Come now, it can’t just be me? I feel as if the parts of life stand opposed, separated. I’ve managed to bring parts of my faith into my secular life that bridge the gap, such as the Liturgy of the Hours, and those fantastic Catholic individuals I’ve surrounded myself with as often as I can, but there will always be a part that’s lacking, that full integration and optimization if you will.
One of my favorite priests said that if there is something unsatisfactory, something in our current lives that we know should be to give us the best good, then we should take steps to change our situation, and – God-willing – we will find that good, whatever it may be. You see, that’s the bit that tends to get me, this constant pursuit. I suppose I’m a product of the culture, or perhaps it’s just my own laziness talking here, but I like it when things are given to me with little effort on my part. I want to be fit or strong or able to defend myself better, but I dislike most times going out of my way to say, exercise or practice martial arts. I want to finish my story, but every time I hit a block, I barely attempt to push past into a new territory of thought anymore. It becomes a struggle to write even one or two sentences, and it’s slow progress, and I’m almost at the point of dropping it for a while.
Those examples are small things, relatively speaking, so now take the constant hunt for truth, beauty, and goodness that haunts my every waking moment. I need and want it, but only on my terms, my way. The minimal effort, so to speak. I began this post in what I think are much more hopeful terms (keep in mind, that this was written over several days), but I appear to have tailed off into what we here in my head like to call utter “doom and gloom” mode. Oh, perhaps the rain is affecting my mood.
The point – if you read nothing else, and skipped to the end bit – is that life is a pursuit. It is difficult, it is messy, we slack off for quite a bit of it, and we will not find the fullness of beauty while still on earth. Still, we have been given everything already, by our loving God. Imagine a box of LEGOs that’s handed to you. The best part oftentimes becomes the sorting through the pieces and building the creation. That’s what life is, I think, that continual hunt for the correct LEGO pieces. We might spend a while hunting for that right one; we might lose a few (don’t worry, there are extras for that); but in the end, so long as we keep at it, there is every possibility that we will have that wondrous masterpiece of a set.
So today, if one would say a prayer and – I would ask – take a look at our own pursuits of beauty, the efforts we take to seek God, and just ask Him for that “desire to desire”, then we may move forward. I think it fitting, as we drop off into “summer bliss” and a state of perhaps slacking off a little (which is fine if done in moderation), that we do so with some sense of purpose, leaving threads to pick up once more when we realize it’s time to go on. On towards summer.