"And a poet said, Speak to us of Beauty. And he answered:
Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself be your way and your guide?
And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech?
The aggrieved and the injured say, "Beauty is kind and gentle. Like a young mother half-shy of her own glory she walks among us."
And the passionate say, "Nay, beauty is a thing of might and dread.
Like the tempest she shakes the earth beneath us and the sky above us."
The tired and the weary say, "Beauty is of soft whisperings. She speaks in our spirit.
Her voice yields to our silences like a faint light that quivers in fear of the shadow."
But the restless say, "We have heard her shouting among the mountains,
Image by Caro's Lines via Flickr
And with her cries came the sound of hoofs, and the beating of wings and the roaring of lions."
At night the watchmen of the city say, "Beauty shall rise with the dawn from the east."
And at noontide the toilers and the wayfarers say, "We have seen her leaning over the earth from the windows of the sunset."
In winter say the snow-bound, "She shall come with the spring leaping upon the hills."
And in the summer heat the reapers say, "We have seen her dancing with the autumn leaves, and we saw a drift of snow in her hair."
All these things have you said of beauty,
Yet in truth you spoke not of her but of needs unsatisfied,
And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.
It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth,
But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.
It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear,
But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a song you hear though you shut your ears.
It is not the sap within the furrowed bark, nor a wing attached to a claw,
But rather a garden for ever in bloom and a flock of angels for ever in flight.
People, beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.
But you are life and you are the veil.
Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.
But you are eternity and you are the mirror."
As I read this, I think of three different relationships with beauty. I'm sure there are more, but I will speak in broad strokes. There was the time in our lives when we searched for beauty, when it is hard for us to find and it feels like a struggle to really feel it. The world around us is material, it is real enough, but there is no depth to it. We can stand on the edge of t
Image by Wolfgang Staudt via Flickr
he Grand Canyon and we know that it is beautiful so we take picture of it, maybe even frame it, but no shift really takes place in the deep parts of us. Our heart doesn't swell, our breath doesn't catch in mid-exhalation, a tear doesn't touch our eye. The experience, leaves us unchanged. We name beauty, we determine what it is and what it isn't.
But gradually, as we begin looking, not only with our eyes, but with our spirits, we begin to really "see". That shift does happen and we are nourished and renewed. And then we move into the stage in which beauty finds us. We don't even look for her. She is just always there. Wherever we look. This is the stage where my friend, Roy (he of the beautiful face plant), finds himself. Beauty presents herself and he has no choice but to dive right in. This is also the place at which my grey hair and wrinkles become every bit as beautiful as the perfectly smooth and delicately lit skin of my children. Hard to imagine isn't it?
And Kahil Gabril tells us that there is a next stage. A stage at which beauty needs no filtering through our senses or through our neuronal synapses, we don't process it in any way, shape or form. It is not outside of us in any way. Beauty is life and we are the life. We are also the holy face.
More and more I am living in the second stage though I'm still working on the wrinkles vs. my kids' perfect skin thing. But frequently, my heart lifts at the gray skies of a gloomy day as much as it does when the earth presents itself with deep blue skies and bright sunlight. Our long days of night during an Alaskan winter has a beauty that need not compare itself to the endless light of summer. The rough bark of an old cottonwood tree that I have seen in my yard for 15 years speaks as loudly as the exuberant beauty of the deep purple and bright yellow giant bearded irises that I spent long moments gazing at in Oregon.
Maybe some day I will touch this other place of beauty that the poet speaks about. But, for today, I jump up and down in joy and gratitude for eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin with which to experience this miracle of earth and life.
What is your relationship to beauty? Are you looking for her? Has she found you?