Saturday, 4 October 2014

Beauty and Prayer. Part 1

Over the past few months I have been journaling as often as I can as part of a self-initiated healing programme to help me overcome anxiety issues. Two recurring themes seem to have presented themselves to me: the concepts of beauty and of prayer. I have come to see these two as being intrinsically connected to each other and what follows is a brief exploration of this.

The following books more eloquently expand various ideas and philosophies regarding beauty and prayer and have been helpful to me on this journey:
‘Timeless Beauty’ by John Lane, Green Books Ltd, 2003 (An artist takes a philosophical and cultural look at beauty)
‘Divine Beauty’ by John O’Donohue, Bantam, 2004 (A Catholic Scholar explores the human desire to belong)
‘Eternal Echoes’ by John O’Donohue, Perenial (Harper Collins), 2002 9(A Catholic Scholar explores divine beauty)
‘When a Pagan Prays’ by Nimue Brown, Moon Books, 2014 (A Druid takes an interfaith look at prayer and wonders why it works. An interesting look at prayer from a sceptics viewpoint covering prayer meaning, function, ethics, practice etc. I may not agree with all of it, but it was a refreshing look at prayer from a different and often useful perspective)
Some quotes to start with:
‘The human soul is hungry for beauty; we seek it everywhere - in landscape, music, art, clothes, furniture, gardening, companionship, love, religion and in ourselves. No-one would desire not to be beautiful. When we experience the Beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming. Some of our most wonderful memories are of beautiful places where we felt immediately at home. We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful for it meets the needs of our soul. ..... The Beautiful stirs passion and urgency in us and calls forth from aloneness into the warmth and wonder of an eternal embrace. It unites us again with the neglected and forgotten grandeur of life.’ John O’Donohue, Divine Beauty.

‘For whatever we believe, beauty-beauty ‘whereof one cannot speak’-remains unchallenged as a fact of everyday experience. We can see it, we can feel it, we can know it as a sensuous reality that accompanies us throughout life. It is something we encounter on street corners, in public buildings, waiting for a train or looking up from a book. We can also know that there is nothing so inspirational, nothing so transfiguring, nothing so noble, nothing so elevating as transient beauty. But its origins, its significance and destination must remain a mystery. ... For a century or more it seems that we have been running away from silence, stillness and beauty. For all that time, modernity has engendered a culture that trivializes and feeds our discontent .... it is too seldom that we pay attention to the beauty of things. In the frantic unending hustle of contemporary urban life, it is easy to become unaware of the possibilities of acceptance-a total acceptance- of things as they are-just life as it is. .... We need to practice a new way of looking at nature: not to learn about her, but to learn from her. .... For it is a fact that our crisis is one of the psyche, not politics, nor economics, technology and the environment. It is not only the Earth but we who need to be healed-to become whole again. The quest for beauty can make a significant contribution to that healing. For the love of beauty heals and comforts, nourishes and inspires. It absolves and celebrates. It can help us recover our dignity. It is the bridge between time and eternity, earth and heaven’. John Lane, Timeless Beauty.
Here are some edited notes from my journal where I first started to think about beauty:
... I need to relax into my artwork. I can find it hard to relax and focus on things, there must be a way to do it and I should find that way. Keep it simple and all will be revealed. I wonder what I can draw? I wonder what I can create and I wonder how the elements can fit together? Beauty in the time here writing and beauty in the page before me. Beauty is everything, because beauty comes from God.

God and the beautiful reside together. Is that what I want: to find a connection between beauty, God and my artwork? So what is beautiful? Is God beautiful? God created everything and so created beauty. Thus God must know beauty. God must know the Original Blessing - that blessing was was bestowed amongst us in Jesus - His Son was beauty personified. Beauty and pain, peace and war - the juxtaposition of elements - anything can be beautiful in the right context.

In this place I pray for healing. I pray that as I discover beauty so I will discover healing. Beauty is healing - it is the opposite of pain - and healing can be found in the beauty of pain. Pain can be beautiful as can be the release from that pain. All that I create should be beautiful. When I begin to see beauty within me and in my art then I will begin to see God at work. Then God will be my healer.

On holiday in Wales I was awakened to seeing so much beauty around me and I wanted to reach out and touch it. It wasn’t just the landscape that I liked though. I was more inspired by the way that people find a need to make their surroundings aesthetically pleasing. For me it was a moment of having my eyes opened to this desire we all seem to have - to plant window boxes, to put up pictures and to improve our immediate surroundings. I want to create beauty.

“Recognise the beauty around around you and your pain will go. Recognise that you are a thing of beauty - part of the Original Blessing and thus always good. Find those things that are beautiful to you and use them to inspire your art. Make mistakes and yet persevere in all that you do. Relax into it and see where you are lead.”

I have wondered where one draws the line as to what is and isn’t beautiful. Usually it is matter of perspective by the onlooker. I recognise that there are times when there is deep trauma, pain, hurt and suffering where beauty seems to be absent and this just as to be accepted as part of the great mystery of life and existence. Nimue Brown talks about nature [and therefore I take it that means the whole of the Created world] being ‘good’. This is a challenging concept for it then implies that death, violence, suffering, disease and decay are all necessary parts of nature. It accepts that life includes all of the bits we don’t like. There are no optional things, nor irritations we should be able to get rid of, it is all intrinsic to existence. To ask God to release us from things is asking God for something for nothing. We just want to rely on God to get us out of a situation and to take no personal responsibility for anything that happens. We can do what we like, therefore why care? God will sort it out. Why bother living, I say? She also asks why does God let certain events happen? Well, what about the events God may have prevented from happening that we, no doubt, know nothing about?

When thinking about beauty I realised how similar it was to prayer in many aspects. Both are ways in which we seek the transformation of ourselves or our surroundings into something more aesthetically pleasing or that gives a positive transformation to some person, thing or event. It seems to be something that is ingrained in our psyche. Whether we are brushing our hair, hanging a picture on a wall or admiring a landscape, we are looking for a way of finding an emotional bond with something and increasing our identity and place in the world around us.

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