There is a charming story of a big city bishop who becomes stranded in the country side while on a driving trip. He is taken in by a country priest and given dinner and hospitality. In the course of the visit, the bishop quotes one of the famous saints, one everyone knows. And he refers to a beautiful passage wherein the saint describes something about the spiritual life. The country priest, also aware of the saint, and familiar with the quotation that the bishop expressed, said, yes Your Eminence, what the saint says is very beautiful indeed, but I have never understood exactly what he meant by it. The bishop responded in a lovely moment of candor, and said, “I must admit that the actual meaning has always escaped my own understanding as well. But surely the beauty itself is enough.”
Whatever we think we can accomplish by our mind, we can be sure that God is far beyond it. Even the ‘footprints’ of God, the signs and tokens and traces of Him left in the day, or the heart, or the mind, are not objects of knowledge that can be organized and controlled. We are not able to understand how God works, nor how He is active among us and in our lives. But we know that He is present and that He lives and moves about with us. Indeed as the Scripture assures us, “In Him, we live and move and have our being.” The invisible God is seen in a manner beyond vision. God is present, but this is not something we can understand and hold with our logic. But we can grow slowly into the experience of such mysteries without trying to nail them down, as if we could actually nail them down anyway. Some things touch us with their beauty and yet escape our understanding. Like Scripture that can unfold in different ways according to season or time, every person or event can be a potential charism of the Holy Spirit. The life of every human being bears the potential of communion with God.We can be nourished, if possible through understanding, but at least by beauty. Beauty is the soft power, it does not command, it endows, and brings us to secret transfigurations.
“And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.”
Saint Paul has a very practical approach to this. He says, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are beautiful, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Maybe Saint Paul is trying to form in us this specific way of seeing the world around us. Human perception lies not in reason alone with its presumptions, but in all that goodness, all that beauty. It is the ‘beauty’ of Our Lord Jesus Christ that ravishes a human soul. Beauty is a true testimony to the real presence of God in the world, a sort of His Epiphany. This is one of the reasons we are reminded in the liturgical hymns of the Nativity season that the salvation of human beings is described as the “restoring of the first beauty”, Adam’s beauty. And “that Christ has raised us, who had slipped into sin, back to the ancient beauty”. Here of course as Saint Peter reminds us what is spoken of is “not that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, or of wearing of gold, or of putting on or certain apparel, but the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the adornment of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”(l Peter 3)