Saturday 16 May 2015

“Beauty awakens the soul to act”

I recently received a new blessing. Through the post came a new book, by David Whyte “CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.”. It truly is wonderful. Below is the reflection on "Beauty", from it.

"The harvest of presence, the evanescent moment of seeing or hearing on the outside what already lives far inside us; the eyes, the ears or the imagination suddenly become a bridge between the here and the there, between then and now, between the inside and the outside; beauty is the conversation between what we think is happening outside in the world and what is just about to occur far inside us.

Beauty is an achieved state of both deep attention and self-forgetting; the self forgetting of seeing, hearing, smelling or touching that erases our separation, our distance, our fear of the other. Beauty invites us, through entrancement, to that fearful, frontier between what we think makes us; and what we think makes the world. Beauty is almost always found in symmetries: the symmetries seen out in creation, the wings of the moth, the airy sky and the solid earth, the restful, focused eyes of a loving face in which we see our own self reflected: the symmetry also, therefore, of bringing together inner and outer recognitions, the far horizon of otherness seen in that face joined to the deep inner horizon of our own being. Beauty is an inner and an outer complexion living in one face.

Beauty especially occurs in the meeting of time with the timeless; the passing moment framed by what has happened and what is about to occur, the scattering of the first spring apple blossom, the turning, spiraling flight of a curled leaf in the falling light; the smoothing of white sun-filled sheets by careful hands setting them to air on a line, the broad expanse of cotton filled by the breeze only for a moment, the sheets sailing on into dryness, billowing toward a future that is always beckoning, always just beyond us. Beauty is the harvest of presence."

...It got me thinking about "Beauty". The rest of this "blogspot" is a reflection on beauty, inspired by wiser and holier fools than I...

Now as if by chance, or not, the very same day that the book arrived a friend of mine posted a “meme” on social media which read “Beauty awakens the soul to act”, it is a quote by Dante. It struck me powerfully and got me thinking and feeling. I opened my new book and the first subject I happened upon was the piece above on "beauty". I've have been contemplating the word ever since as I have witnessed, and remembered the beauty of nature as life has been delighting in its own being once again.

My soul has reawakened has engaged with and appreciated the beauty of nature whether by night or day. I remembered the Passover moon that moved me over the Easter weekend and of course the cherry blossom that delighted my eyes and heart and so beautifully moved me to engage with so many friends recently. I also contemplated the beauty of the many people I have come to know and the joy of watching and listening to them as they have just simply gone about their daily business, as they were just simply being themselves. As I have watched the people around me I have constantly been reminded of the following words by Walt Whitman.

“I have perceiv’d that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing,
Laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them or touch any one, or rest my arm
Ever so lightly around his or her neck for a moment,
What is this
I do not ask any more delight, I swim in it as in a sea.”

To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, Laughing flesh is certainly enough to awaken my soul. All this beauty whether natural or human has awakened my soul to act in more loving and open ways and thus pour out my own love on the world in which I live and breathe and move and have my being.

In “Notes on the Need for Beauty: An Intimate Look at An Essential Quality” J. Ruth Gendler wrote:

"Beauty doesn't mind questions and she is fond of riddles. Beauty will dance with anyone who is brave enough to ask her. When I first wrote these words twenty-five years ago, I had only begun to imagine how we could invite beauty into our lives. I had no idea how deeply they would lead me into an exploration of beauty.

"Writing about beauty feels like drinking water out of the cup of my hand from a clear spring. As I bring this water to my mouth, so much spills away. The water tastes delicious; the freshness and purity startle me. I have been drinking water that was mediocre for so long. I have forgotten how good water can taste. Like water, beauty is ordinary and essential, as well as extraordinary and magnificent.

"Beauty, like water, takes many forms and permeates our environment. Just as water travels across the world and pools in everything from our cells to underground streams to magnificent storms, beauty also travels, gathers, concentrates. It is beautiful to look at and listen to the way the world changes with rain, to trace the path of the river by foot or from an airplane window, to talk at the ocean's edge, swim under the waterfall. Beauty rinses our eyes. Sometimes beauty moves us to tears. We bathe in, drink the presence of beauty.

"Slowly I have come to savor the beauty of the unknown, the unnameable, the contradictions and paradoxes. Beauty is simple and complex, obvious and elusive, superficial and profound, spontaneous and achieved with great effort, impossible to define and essential to articulate. Beauty is allied with the radiance of fire, body and soul, vision and music, movement and stillness, the daily cycles of night and day.

"Beauty refuses to yield to analysis, refuses to be perfection. Beauty moves within and around us, rearranging our moods, taking us home. Beauty is always moving and beauty is very still, the light in the dark, the dark in the light, the subtlest shades of pale white and blue, the richest tones of indigo and black and deep brown, the brightest reds and oranges and golds. We find beauty at the intersections, the edges, the center of so many experiences. Although we keep trying to talk about beauty as inner or outer, that language is too static, trying to fix beauty in a single location. Beauty is an energy, not an image, and that energy can go anywhere; that energy takes on an image, a form, many images, many forms.”

...Just beautiful...She captures beauty, so beautifully...

Oh yes indeed beauty awakens the soul of me in so many indescribable ways and it compels me to act in such a way as to pour out that beauty within on to all I engage with.

Beauty manifests itself in so many ways in the world in which we live and breathe and move. It awakens all our senses and thus feeds and nourishes our souls; it awakens our souls and it fills our hearts to overflowing. We not only drink from the well of beauty, we also fill it too. Beauty truly is about the heart, about filling the heart to overflowing. In "Beauty: The Invisible Embrace" John O’Donohue  wrote 

"The heart is the place where beauty arrives; here is where it can be felt, recognized and shared. If there was no heart, beauty could never reach us. Through the heart, beauty can pervade every cell of the body and fill us. To use a word that feels like it sounds: this is the thrill of beauty through us. Perhaps this is why we sometimes feel the absence of beauty in our lives; we have allowed the prism to become dull and darkened; though the light is near, it cannot enter to have its inlay of beauty diffused. Sometimes absence is merely arrested appearance. Compassion and attention keep the prism clear so that beauty may illuminate our life. Prayer of course is the supreme way we lift our limited selves towards the light, and ask it to shine into us. "

Beauty not only awakens the soul, but also fills the heart to overflowing, it certainly compels me to pour my heart out on the world in loving ways.

Matthew Fox claims that “The universe is in the habit of making beauty. There are flowers and songs, snowflakes and smiles, acts of great courage, laughter between friends, a job well done, the smell of fresh baked bread. Beauty is everywhere”

It is beauty that awakens our souls and compels us to act in loving ways. In fact perhaps true beauty, certainly in a human sense, is to act morally. As John O’Donohue has pointed out Plato believed that Love was born of beauty and that it tapped into our basic human drive and desire for Good, that it was not a private or self-indulgent act of pleasure and that “the ability to love beauty has created all the good things that exist for gods and men’. He quotes Pseudo Dionysius the Aeropagite who said, "For beauty is the cause of harmony, of sympathy, of community. Beauty unites all things and is the source of all things. It is the great creating cause which bestirs the world and holds all things in existence by the longing inside them to have beauty. And there it is ahead of all as…the Beloved…toward which all things move, since it is the longing for beauty which actually brings them into being."

It is beauty that awakens our souls and inspires us to act lovingly in the world and thus inspires us to pour out our love on the world. How do we do this you may well ask? Well I believe it begins with our neighbour the very people we interact with on a daily basis.

Below is a passage from Matthew’s Gospel (Ch 26 vv 6-13). It is a much debated primarily because it has been used by some as a justification for tolerating poverty. I believe that to focus on this is to fail to recognise the central message of Matthews Gospel, the abundant blessing of love.

6 Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,* 7a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. 8But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, ‘Why this waste? 9For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.’10But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. 11For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. 13Truly I tell you, wherever this good news* is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’

The power in this story is in its recognition of abundant love. The woman loves and cares for Jesus. She anoints him with oil because she loves him dearly. It truly is an act of loving, nay gracious abandonment. This is in complete contrast to the grumpy disciples who are definitely of the  glass half empty brigade. At least they are consistent though as they appear this way throughout the Gospels. The woman though is overflowing with love and wants to anoint those she loves with this. This is beauty in action. This is a soul awakened by beauty and inspired to act lovingly. Her heart is over flowing with love and she wants to pour out this love onto Jesus who will soon no longer be with her or the disciples.

This is something we can all do we can all pour out this attentive love on one another and all life. We can offer care and attention to each and everyone around us. In so doing we will help create beauty all around us. It brings to mind the following little anecdote by William McNamara:

“I once lived near a mansion where only one of the many gardeners employed had succeeded with every one of the roses. I asked him the secret of his success. He told me that the other gardeners treated all the roses not unwisely, but too generally. They treated them all in precisely the same way; whereas he himself watched each rosebush separately, and followed out for each plant its special need for soil, manure, sun, air, water, support and shelter.”

Beauty is all around us. We are surrounded by it. If we open ourselves to it, it will fill our hearts, awaken our souls and lead us to act lovingly and morally. This is beauty in action. If we create beauty with our own hands we will touch each individual soul we meet and they will grow and flower to their own full potential. We are here to enjoy the beauty that we are surrounded by and to pour out the beauty that lays within us and thus bring it to fruition in the world around us.

As Desmond Tutu has said:

“We were made to enjoy music, to enjoy beautiful sunsets, to enjoy looking at the billows of a sea and to be thrilled with a rose that is bedecked with dew…Human beings are actually created for the transcendent, for the sublime, for the beautiful, for the truthful…and all all of us are given the task of trying to make this world a little more hospitable to these beautiful things.”

Let beauty awake for beauty's sake. Awake from slumber and awake from dreams. Let beauty awake from deep within us, Let beauty pour from us and be lavished upon our world.

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