I plucked a red pepper out of the garden yesterday. It was well formed with rounded quadrants at the top and bottom. The skin was soft, smooth and ruby red. The stem was perky and green and still had a leaf attached. It had a scent of pepper mingling with sweetness. It was simply beautiful. It sits on my window sill and I gaze at it when I am at the sink. I tend to put small beautiful things on my window sill. A small painted animal or a miniature vase of flowers from the yard. I spend a lot of time in my kitchen and I like to surround myself with beautiful things. Making beautiful things gives me great pleasure, too. When I cook, I am aware of the color and presentation of the food as much as the taste. I consider the color of the platter and how it will complement my entree. There is something about beauty, wherever it is found, that captivates us and makes us pause for a moment. But, what is in that moment? Why do we desire beauty in our lives?
My appreciation for beauty in art led me to Florence, Italy when I was in college. There, I had the opportunity to explore the San Marco Monastery in Florence, a former monastery turned museum. In the hallways and on each dormitory wall, Fra Angelico, had painted a fresco depicting moments in Christ’s life. I stood in each nearly empty dorm and imagined what it must have been like to awaken in this spartan room to nothing but walls, the floor and a beautiful fresco. The intent of the fresco was to put each monk into the contemplative, peaceful mindset that is required of their vocation. These colors and lines and symbols telling the story of our Lord gave an ethereal richness to the impoverished life of these monks. In the enclosed courtyard of the monastery, another monk was tasked with maintaining a beautiful rose garden. Each plant was carefully tended to produce a perfect rose. Others spent their days creating manuscripts with elegant calligraphy and illuminations. I left the monastery thinking that it was as if they traded all the fleeting treasures of this secular world to live amidst the beauty of eternal truth.
The life of Christ has inspired some of the most magnificent works of beauty known to man. A beauty that is set apart from a secular idea of beauty that only seeks to display an individual’s wealth or to celebrate the empty promise of hedonism. During my time in Florence and Rome, I was able to experience coming face to face with transcendant beauty created by many gifted painters. Not just Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, but their many apprentices, too. And not just painting, but literature, architecture, and music has also been created by man over the centuries to glorify God. We have G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O’Connor, and Robert Southwell to name a few authors whose writings use the beauty of language in either its poetic or reasonable character to reveal the truth.
By stark contrast, when beauty is absent, we find darkness, confusion, destruction and despair. When the towers fell, ten years ago on September 11, 2001, we witnessed the opposite of creation. We witnessed destruction. The images that emerged from that tragic day were filled with darkness, confusion, destruction and despair. In the same way, we pause and we are captivated. But there is something very different that moment when we behold ugliness. When something is created to glorify God, there will be transcendant beauty. If we really believe this to be true, we must question how war and acts of war can ever be considered acts that glorify God. In light of the recent conflicts, Pope Benedict has said that we need to be “asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a ‘just war’.” This weekend, as we revisit the tragic events of ten years ago and the attendant images, I hope we can pause and reflect on how we can resolve the problems in the world without turning to acts of war, but rather by seeking to build up God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
When the first tower was struck ten years ago, I was eight months pregnant with my first born son. I was also working part-time as an art therapist with children in foster care. Art therapists use art to encourage healing from trauma. It occurred to me at that time that we, as a country, had been traumatized. And we have needed healing. Since September 11, 2001, we have each done our part to restore beauty to the landscape of our life. There are so many little ways that we can participate in God’s ongoing creation. We can start in simple ways each day. Plant a garden, knit a scarf, paint a picture, play a song on the piano, write a poem and take moments to experience and appreciate beauty wherever you can find it. And create it where it is lacking.
With tears He fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield,
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows, looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns, cold and need,