Friday, January 27, 2017

Transcendent Beauty

"Snow in the Mountains"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

Over the past few weeks we have been experiencing some very unusual weather for this desert region where we live – a series of winter storms swept through, soaking the area with an almost-constant rainfall for over a week. What I hadn’t realized was that the rain in the desert valley would fall as snow in the high surrounding mountains.

A few days ago after the sun came out I went outdoors to walk along a desert trail and when I looked up at the mountains,  the sight was so beautiful that it “took my breath away” - the towering stone mountains were all covered in a brilliant cap of fresh-fallen snow. As I stood on the sandy desert soil surrounded by palm trees, cacti, and sage bushes and looked up at the snow-capped mountains glistening in the bright blue skies, there were no words to express what I felt and all I could utter was “O God.”

I once read an article written by the poet Gregory Orr who suggested that another name for God is Beauty:

One of the terms we poets use in our considerable effort
to avoid religious or spiritual terminology is
‘Beauty.’
Of course, no one can define the word or everybody defines it differently
and yet we believe in it.
Beauty is an article of faith among poets.
I think we try to sidestep religion
and ‘Beauty’ is a word we use to do that.

The more I think about it, I really like the word “Beauty” as another name for “God.” The other day, when I was struck by the Transcendent Beauty I witnessed upon seeing those holy mountains, it was indeed a powerful experience of “God.” As I think about it, in many ways I much prefer to think of “God” as “Beauty” rather than to imagine “God” as the “Man Upstairs,” the “Distant King” or the “Heavenly Father.”   

My guess is that the more “traditional” believer might object to the idea that “Beauty” is a name for “God” dismissing this as being far too “new age;” and yet as far back as the 4th century Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote a celebrated poem in which he referred to “God” as “Beauty ever ancient, Beauty ever new.”  So as I see it, when I experience “Transcendent Beauty” and call that experience “God,” I am well within the tradition handed down through the ages.

Of course you don’t need to live in a desert to encounter the kind of “Beauty” I witnessed as I gazed up at those snow-covered mountains.  Each and every one of us can encounter “Beauty” every day if we have the eyes to see it and the heart to embrace it.  “Beauty” might be revealed in the innocent look on a child’s face, in the gentle touch of a spouse or friend, in the crimson skies of a sunset or the hopeful hues of a breaking dawn, in the sparkling crystals of ice on the window pain on a winter’s day.  

The poet John O’Donohue once said:

The word for beautiful comes from the Greek word ‘to call.’
When we experience beauty we feel called.
The Beautiful stirs passion and urgency in us
and calls us forth from aloneness.
It unites us again with the neglected and forgotten grandeur of life.
Beauty elicits a sense of completion in us.

It seems to me as if “Beauty” does all this because Beauty is indeed another name for God. 

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