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Stay Vulnerable to Beauty

Updated: Dec 23, 2021

Pyramid Lake, Jasper, Alberta, Canada, August 2017. Copyright © Michael D. Warden. All Rights Reserved.

Simone Weil writes this concerning Beauty:

"We are drawn toward it without knowing what to ask of it. It offers us its own existence. We do not desire anything else, we possess it, and yet we still desire something. We do not in the least know what it is. We want to get behind beauty, but it is only a surface. It is like a mirror that sends us back our own desire for goodness." — From the essay "Forms of the Implicit Love of God"

Or, as John O'Donohue put it: “Beauty is from elsewhere."

It's here, with us every day, but not entirely. It’s a window. A portal. You can’t look at it straight on without feeling it pull you through it towards something that lives beyond it, or perhaps within it. We cannot name or perhaps even comprehend what that thing beyond beauty is, but we ache for it like a lover for his beloved, or like the heart of a lost soul longing to go home.

I recently watched two documentaries, both of them about artists in New York, both of them men who never married for love of their art, and each of whom are now coming to the end of his life, and finding it a life well lived.

The first – Bill Cunningham, New York – is about Bill, a photographer who lives essentially in a closet full of file cabinets above Carnegie Hall, and spends his days photographing women's clothes on the streets of New York. Simple. Singular in his passion. Catholic. Goes to church every Sunday. A fascinating profile of an artist in his element.

The second—Nothing Changes: Art for Hank’s Sake—is about Hank Virgona, an artist, who at 87 years old, commutes 90 minutes each way to his Union Square studio six days a week to make his art, as he has been doing for over 50 years, despite poor health, cancer, and a lack of revenue. A beautiful story.

These are men in love—with what precisely, they could not say. Hank admits this outright—saying that he has been coming to the studio nearly every day all his life trying to figure out why he keeps doing it, but he just keeps coming. He called it “It," a connection with "It," that keeps him coming back day after day. A moment of sublime transcendence.

I believe that connection, the “It” he experiences, is God. It's a courtship, foreplay, a game of Hide and Seek. He finds God in the woman on the subway, in the glass jar on the table, in the rusty old can.

His whole life, you see, has been an act of worship.

Beauty is Divine seduction. Beauty is God making a pass at us. Through beauty, he entices us to come closer, to look in, to see through, to awaken in our longing for the “It” that lingers just out of reach on the other side of Beauty.

Beauty awakens the chase. But it isn't the only lure in God’s kit. There's also Mystery, and Love, and Order, and Spontaneous Surprise (what many call serendipity or synchronicity).

All of these are windows, gateways and doors into the intimate presence of God. And those who find him by these means (as opposed to through "religion") always find a Lover, never an angry tyrant, never a cruel judge.

Whenever you encounter Beauty this week, pause and take it in. What does it awaken in you?

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