On the Power of Beauty
by CSW Director Rob Field
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow.
Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty” (1877)
Beauty can save us, if we’ll let it.
If you’re struck by the kind of natural beauty reflected in Brandon Cook’s gorgeous photo from Funnel Top Mountain, N.C., you already recognize its immense power. Since Richard Rohr taught me that I need to immerse myself in nature at least once a day for my spiritual wellness, I’ve had the profound experience of knowing that beauty can save me — which means, I’m pretty sure, that it can also heal and transform others.
In a world that seems more chaotic and off-kilter by the week, it might well be beauty that can bring us back to sanity and a divine center. I believe this, in large part, because I don’t know anything else under the sun that can. But we’ll need to turn to beauty and embrace it more fully in order to release its power.
We’ll have to turn back to the sense of awe and reverence that beauty engenders in open-hearted souls. Have we not become too distracted by the legitimate cares and concerns of the world? I am the last person to claim we shouldn’t pay attention to the serious threats we face from climate change, militaristic nationalism in more than one region, and an overly-fragile democracy at home. But it’s possible to pay too much attention to such things, since we individuals cannot single-handedly change them and because we risk feeling overwhelmed by helplessness and despair.
Meanwhile, beauty in her many forms waits in silence, beckoning us to recognize that she is — as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said — “God’s handwriting.” Most of the world’s great religious and spiritual traditions see beauty as a conduit for the divine, since true beauty begs the questions, “Who made you? How did you come to be? I want to know the Artist who fashioned you!”
Beauty also inspires action to celebrate and preserve it. It’s no surprise, for instance, that many people who fall in love with the mountains of Western North Carolina eventually get involved in efforts to conserve the region’s natural beauty. People like us don’t want over-development, preventable climate change, and under-funding of state and national parks to eclipse the unique treasures that reveal an abundance of natural beauty. We want our children and the generations that follow to enjoy what we also hold dear.
At Center for Spiritual Wisdom, we’re exploring the intersection of artistic beauty and spirituality. Whenever an artist or art student begins to explore the wellsprings of creativity, the transcendent dimension feels close at hand. In the coming months, you can expect additional offerings from us that will give participants a chance to know more deeply the power of the same beautiful world you and I are invited to sustain and defend.
photo “Hello, Yellow” by Brandon Cook via Instagram