Abbot Philip: Beauty Forms Us in Beauty

Ceiling of LightsAbbot Philip lives at Christ in the Desert Monastery in New Mexico (left), but has been on retreat in Hawaii for the last few months:

“As far as I can tell, this will be my last Notebook from Hawaii this year. I am ready to leave later today and return to the mainland. It has been a wonderful time of renewal and restoration for me. One of the aspects of my life here and at Christ in the Desert is to live in incredible beauty.

I remember almost 35 years ago when a Trappist abbot commented to me that it is nearly impossible to lead a deep spiritual life in an ugly place. Monasteries that are founded in ugly places have to change them into beautiful places or they have to relocate. Part of our spiritual life has to include some awareness of our surroundings and an awareness of how those surroundings affect us. This is another aspect of living the incarnation.

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Joan Chittister: ‘In the Studio of Life’

“Happiness does not come quickly. It is not conferred by any single event, however exciting or comforting or satisfying the event may be. It cannot be purchased, whatever the allure of the next, the newest, the brightest, the best. Happiness, like Carl Sandburg’s fog, “comes on little cat feet,” often silently, often without our knowing it, too often without our noticing.

The problem is that we don’t like “slowly” anymore. In anything. We want instant wealth and instant success. As a result, we have not a clue about the layers of enrichment that come with learning to live slowly.

The beauty of learning to cast a lure and wait for hours for a tug on the line that may never come escapes us now. We buy our fish; we don’t catch it. We get it filleted and packaged in cling wrap instead of wet and shiny from the sea. We get our fruit peeled and chopped at the delicatessen. We don’t pick it from the trees anymore. We miss the moment of stopping to watch the sun go down before we pull the fish in over the stern or climb down the ladder with the basket of cherries.

So how can we possibly have the patience to extract the meaning of the moments of our lives as we race through them from one to another?

George Vaillant’s historic longitudinal study of Harvard men and Lewis Terman’s similar study of men and women trace the slow unfolding of a person, of their live and most of all, of the understanding of their lives. Asked again and again over the years what they would most have wished could have been changed for them, the men and women in the study were more likely as they got older to say “nothing.” They would, they declared, change nothing of it. Not the deaths, not the embarrassments, not the struggles, not the losses. To change anything in their personal histories, they had come to realize, would have diminished the gem that was their lives, that had been cut and shined slowly in the studios of life, that had made them what, at the end, they had finally become.

Clearly, happiness is an acquired taste. It comes from being steeped in the truths of life long enough to have learned not only how to survive them but how to get beyond the cosmetics of them to drink from the root of them. It is a many splendored thing, this movement from being alive to being full of life. It comes in many stages, made up of many experiences. It takes a lifetime of learning both how to be with others and how to be alone.”–Joan Chittister, OSB

From Happiness by Joan Chittister

Thomas Merton: ‘Make All Beauty Holy’

“The eyes of the saint make all beauty holy and the hands of the saint consecrate everything they touch to the glory of God, and the saint is never offended by anything and is scandalized at no [person’s] sin because [s]he does not know  sin. [S]He knows nothing but the love and the mercy of God and [s]he is on earth to bring that love and that mercy to all.”

From Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton (New Directions Books, 1949, p 21)

Joan Chittister: A Story on Beauty

by Rima
There was a special prison In Uruguay for political prisoners. Here they were not allowed to talk without permission or whistle, smile, sing, walk fast, or greet other prisoners; nor could they make or receive drawings of pregnant women, couples, butterflies, stars or birds. One Sunday afternoon, Didako Perez, a school teacher who was tortured and jailed “for having ideological ideas,” is visited by his five-year-old daughter Milay. She brings him a drawing of birds. The guards destroy it at the entrance of the jail.

On the following Sunday, Milay brings him a drawing of trees. Trees are not forbidden, and the drawing gets through.

Her father praises her work and asks about the colored circles scattered in the treetops, many small circles half-hidden among the branches: “Are they oranges? What fruit is it?”

The child puts her finger to her mouth, “Shh.” And she whispers in her father’s ear, “Don’t you see they are eyes? They’re the eyes of the birds that I’ve smuggled in for you.”Eduardo Galeano

Beauty, we’re told, is a basic human instinct, the kind of thing that separates us from the animals, a kind of intrinsic quality of the human soul, the irrepressible expression of contemplative insight. It has something to do with what it means to be alive. But is this true? And how do we know that?

I remember being shocked into a new sense of what it means to be human in an inhuman environment in the worst slum in Haiti. Here people live in one room hovels made of corrugated steel over mud floors. They bear and raise one child after another here. They eat the leftovers of society. They scrounge for wood to cook with. They sleep in filth and live in rags and barely smile and cannot read. But in the middle of such human degradation they paint bright colors and brilliant scenes of a laughing, loving, wholesome community. They carve faces. They paint strident colors on bowls made out of coconuts. They play singing drums across the bare mountains that raise the cry of the human heart. They manufacture beauty in defiance of what it means to live an ugly, forgotten life on the fringe of the United States, the wealthiest nation the world has ever known. They are a sign that a society that can make such beauty is capable of endless human potential, however much struggle it takes to come to fullness. They are a sign of possibility and aspiration and humanity that no amount of huts or guns or poverty or starvation can ever squelch. –Sr. Joan Chittister

From 40 Stories to Stir the Soul by Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB

St. Augustine: ‘Late Have I Loved You’

st-augustine-of-hippo7We had a lovely chapel service today at Sojourners. Kierra Jackson read this excerpt from St. Augustine as one of our prayers:

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!  You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.  In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.  You were with me, but I was not with you.  Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.  You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.  You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.  You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.  I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.  You touched me, and I burned for your peace.–The Confessions of St. Augustine

I love “O Beauty Ever Ancient, Ever New” as a name for God.