For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which…
Brutal. The only word to describe that interchange between my spouse and me years ago. A lifetime of unexamined wounds punching hard, my tender places receiving their blows… I was in tatters, grieving past all grief. With the lens the Theology of the Body has given me, I have words for that agony: when the rocket engines of spousal union which were designed to point us to heaven are inverted, they point us to hell. Hell it was. My heart was in shreds.
I finally fell off to sleep in the basement where we had escaped after supper to assure privacy from our busy household. Waking hours later, stiff from the couch, I made my way upstairs, the agony of the previous night fresh in every bone, a desolate weight pressing hard. As I happened past my windowed front door–MIRACLE! I was instantly transfixed. Suddenly there was the morning, fresh from heaven, awakening my beloved park across the street. A brilliant, sideways sun cast trees’ long shadows on grass still winter-brown but fiercely golden in its light. White sycamore branches dazzled. Glory–sheer glory–stunned my senses. Beauty overpowered its opposite in one flash of splendor. My heart leapt. “Morning has bro-ken, like the first mor-ning…” God is constant. He is here. He is glorious. He IS–and His “is-ness” is where my heart flies. I am suddenly one with this radiance; it pervades every pore. Far more–MORE–than than any sorrow, no matter how profound. A blast of “eye has not seen…” I was knocked off my pins.
Pope Benedict, years later, in his 2009 address to artists, would lend me words: “Genuine beauty . . .gives man a healthy ‘shock.’ It draws him out of himself, wrenches him away. . .piercing him like a dart, but in so doing it ‘reawakens’ him, opening afresh the eyes of his heart and mind, giving him wings, carrying him aloft.'” I had been carried aloft, for sure.
Of course there was a real coming down off the mountain. Yet, like the apostles after the Transfiguration, I had a new forging of Christ’s beauty with my soul, enhancing beyond measure my perspective for the journey. This BEAUTY ever ancient, ever new, as St. Augustine said, is where I am headed, and it is more real, and more core, than any pain. My heart’s response tells me that. My heart, made in God’s image and likeness, in fact already contains this beauty; it is the velcro which connects with the instant eternity of my “Oh, what a beautiful morning” experience. Rogers and Hammerstein knew it, too!.
We are invited, and movingly so, to intimacy with our beloved Bridegroom in our pain–His wounds and ours co-mingling, our home His wounded side, His home our wounded hearts. Such empathy, such safety! Yet there is perhaps an even more eternal invitation to intimacy with Him–the intimacy of Beauty, His and ours, co-mingling. These “intimacies” are not separate from one another, anymore than Easter Sunday is separate from Good Friday. The invitation is to be fully present to the Easter held out to us even amidst those Good Fridays which can seem all consuming. “All things were created for Him and through Him,” St. Paul tells us, and “in Him, all things hold together” (Col. 1:16). Jesus is the beauty we behold when our hearts are mesmerized by a sunset, captured by the tenderness of a melody, thrilled by a waft of bacon on a Sunday morning. In these, our hearts are suddenly, inexplicably at home. That home is heaven. That home is the Trinity. We can live in that home even now, lost (or found!) in God’s beauty.
Yet this is only half the equation; intimacy is a two-way street. As keenly as we are captured by God’s beauty, He is captured by ours. Pope Benedict boldly proclaimed that Jesus loves us not just with Agape love, but with Eros love–that love of keen desire which will go to any lengths for its beloved. “Pseudo Dionysius expresses it,” he says–“‘that force that ‘does not allow the lover to remain in himself but moves him to become one with the beloved’…On the cross, it is God himself who…is thirsty for the love of every one of his creatures.” Surely in the beauty He showers upon us God is equally “thirsty” for intimacy with His beloveds! Can we break our ancient agreement with shame, and hear our Lover’s cry from the cross as He absorbs all that keeps us from Him, “How beautiful you are, my love, how beautiful you are!” (SOS 4:1). Such yearning in this cry… Intimacy demands the giving and receiving of both parties. The intimacy of Beauty our God desires with us is a dialogue!
Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins begins his exquisite poem “Hurrahing in Harvest” by describing an autumn “barbarous in beauty.” He continues:
I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
And, eyes, heart, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?
A “rapturous love”–this is the fire in God’s heart for us. He overcomes our unsteady hearts with His beauty, and as we allow ourselves to be overcome, a union takes place in which all else pales. The poet goes on to say, referring to the glory astounding him,
These things, these things were here and but the beholder
God wants us, the beholder! He longs for our response. Though God is complete in Himself, the scandalous paradox is that His beauty is incomplete without us. I remember a time driving from a visit to our hometown of many years, back to our new “home” (we were still adjusting) some distance away. The late afternoon ride was poignant; homesickness gnawed. I rounded a bend on a country road and found myself suddenly in the center of Father Hopkins’ poem. The setting sun had just broken through the October dusk, silhouetting bristling, tan corn shocks and their dancing tassels against a breathtaking sky. I pulled over, so overcome was I. “Oh, God,” my heart swelled, “thank you for this beauty–all for me! No one else within miles to behold it!!” The interior reply came, clear as a bell, “Thank you, dear Bonnie. All my beauty poured out, and no one here to drink it in but you. As only you can.” We were one in the gift– wondrously, intimately personal, yet majestically transcendent.. My homesickness evaporated. I was transported. “I living in you, you living in me.”
C.S Lewis, in his book The Weight of Glory, wrote of this union, “We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words–to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” What utter truth. And–who can miss it?!–these words have “Eucharist” written all over them. It is in the Eucharist, every day, that our “homesickness” for beauty can be met. Yet Communion with our Beautiful Bridegroom holds even more–an intimacy in which His ache for our beauty is equally satisfied. “You ravish my heart, my sister, my promised bride, you ravish my heart with a single one of your glances” (SOS 3:9).
Jesus, you ravish me with the large and small beauties you provide. The first sip of coffee in the morning–I know you savor just how I make it. The tender-familiar hymn out of nowhere and the young motherhood it evokes–you cherish those memories with me. The. surprise of February buds on our maple tree–your delight in my delight is palpable, if I let it be. May these beauties propel me to you, dear Lord! Remind me that my glance of gratitude, my bath in your beauty, ravishes your heart. May our romance of beauty, in all its forms here on earth, attune me to our wedding in the New Jerusalem, where “eye has not seen, ear has not heard” what you have readied for me. Amen.