On Beauty

September 30, 2016 |


An appreciation of beauty

A few years ago I played in a small chamber ensemble composed of two flutes, harpsichord, and cello. Our specialty was the music of the Baroque — mostly Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, and other composers of that era. I learned a few lessons about beauty in that ensemble. First, the music was beautiful when everyone in the ensemble was in harmony — not only playing the correct notes (in the same key) but also in tune to one another. And working together — not striving to always be the soloist, but as a part of the ensemble, doing his/her part well. Second, the music was even more beautiful when we not only played the music, but played with the music — ornamenting our lines, stretching the harmonies, or varying the tempo from strict time. Third, when we really “hit it” and the piece was super-good, the music could transcend us into another place, an exquisite place. Fourth, even when we hit the exquisite level, we gave the credit, somewhat to ourselves, but mostly to the composer. I will never meet Bach, or Handel, or Vivaldi but I can tell you quite a lot about each from their music.

The parallel between this beauty and Divine Beauty should be obvious. Rarely do we ever receive direct access into God, but when our lives are in harmony — with those around us, with nature, and especially interiorly — we become aware of all the interconnections and how exquisitely they are crafted. And in times of super-harmony, all the events of our lives make sense and fit together. Then, we begin to understand the Composer and even glimpse the Composer. Yes, I think we see God’s Beauty when we strive to live in harmony and peace with our neighbor and strive to find interior harmony and interior peace. Therefore, to live a spiritual life is to strive to live a harmonious life.

The only way, I think, Saint John of the Cross could write his “Prayer to Beauty” (Commentary on Stanza 36 of “The Spiritual Canticle”) is by living, not in self-centeredness nor even in other-centeredness, but in total-centeredness (himself with others in a harmonious whole). When we find this harmony — this total-centeredness (doing our part in a whole ensemble) as a way of living — we hear, breathe, behold, touch, and walk in beauty.

– Fr. Gregory Houck, O.Carm.

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