Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Sacred quest for Beauty

Bev Gaines, the woman who leads my spirituality class, is also an Enneagram instructor. Which means that, from time to time when things come up in our discussions, she brings the wisdom of the Enneagram to bear on particular subject areas.

This week she was talking about the way that the issues which are most difficult and challenging for us are also the vehicles we have for bringing the sacred to light, and another woman in the classroom asked what that would look like for a four -- the artist -- on the Enneagram scale.

Bev's response was to talk about the Four's hunger for beauty, and I was suddenly taken back to the day -- while on a retreat in British Columbia, looking for something to read during the afternoon break -- that I discovered Joan Chittister's wonderful little book, Illuminated Life and came upon her chapter entitled "Beauty." It was a seminal, defining moment for me to read this:

"It is Beauty that magnetizes the contemplative, and it is the duty of the contemplative to give beauty away so that the rest of the world may, in the midst of squalor, ugliness, and pain, remember that beauty is possible. Beauty feeds contemplation, and Beauty is its end. A sense of Beauty evokes in us consciousness of the eternal in the temporal. ...An encounter with the beautiful lifts our eyes beyond the commonplace and gives us a reason for going on, for ranging beyond the mundane, for endeavoring ourselves always to become more than we are. In the midst of struggle, in the depths of darkness, in the throes of ugliness, beauty brings with it a realization that the best in life is, whatever the cost, really possible. Beauty takes us beyond the visible to the height of consciousness, past the ordinary to the mystical, away from the expedient to the endlessly true...To be contemplative we must remove the clutter from our lives, surround ourselves with beauty, and consciously, relentlessly, persistently, give it away until the tiny world for whch we ourselves are responsible begins to reflect the raw beauty that is God."

I remember reading that and feeling like my heart had been broken open; like I had been given permission to be and pursue what I most long to be and pursue. (and no, I don't mean shopping and facelifts!). At that point in my life I had already realized that my camera's gift was the ability to spot the Holy in the Ordinary, and that it seemed to be about finding what was beautiful. So that began to feel like a sacred quest.

But of course, over time, those revelations tend to fade, and we get buried under all the shoulds of daily life, and I've been feeling that a bit lately. So this morning, when my older daughter called to check in (Hurray! so great to hear from her!) I found myself discussing a passage in Anam Cara that I was struggling with, where John O'Donohue talks about the soul reflected in the face. Bless her heart, she explained that what I see in the mirror is not what she sees when she looks at me, and, obvious though that sounds, it helped me see again that it is on that edge, in that tension between surface perception and depth perception, that the struggle to realize and embody that which calls to us most deeply becomes a gift to the universe.

Bev, who is a six on the Enneagram scale and therefore struggles with issues around fear and security, brings a sense of safety to each person whose life she touches; it is part of her gift to the world, though I think it is work for her to see the value in that. So it makes sense that, as fours, we who are artists struggle with issues around beauty and ego, and in that struggle bring a sense of beauty and self-acceptance to the lives we touch, even though it is sometimes difficult for us to see the value in that.

So today I offer an image of beauty without any attempt to interpret it or read anything into it. I just like it, the color and balance, and, yes, the beauty of it. But I'm not sure this has anything to do with finding the beauty or the holy in the ordinary, because, of course, it's from Venice. And there is nothing at all ordinary about Venice -- except, perhaps to Venetians. Maybe that's the message after all: that that which we see every day -- even the face in the mirror -- which seems so relentlessly ordinary to us, may be absolutely breathtakingly beautiful to someone else.


Anonymous said...

O dear Diana, what a moment of understanding and reassurance you just brought me! Thank you!

I, too, have that hunger for beauty, a real beast of a hunger, lucky for me, I'm easily satisfied. ;O)

I adore Joan Chittister. I'm so thankful for you. I'm always eager to see what you have come up with to enlighten me and feed my hunger.

Unknown said...

WOW. This resonates powerfully with me, as you would know. Thank you for posting it! XO

C. Robin Janning said...


All I can do is stand behind these two "beauty-filled" ladies who preceeded me here and say "me too, thank you."