Saturday, August 6, 2011

Transfigured Vision

“The world will be saved by beauty.” –Dostoevsky

On a quiet morning as I gaze out the window at the drizzling rain and the hazy trees in the distance, this phrase comes to mind. I see the daisies bent over by the weight of raindrops, the multicolored daylilies adorning the chapel sign and the intricate and rugged bark of the large maple tree. God has given me the priceless gift of seeing the world with the eyes of an artist.

As I take it all in, I am mulling over the reason for art. What comes to me is the longing God has placed in our very beings—the longing for beauty. The artistic ability (in different forms) is a gift given to many of us to draw hearts to God. I think of my love for landscapes, but more especially for the “close up” details. I love to photograph the interior of a flower, a grasshopper perched on a blade of grass or a drop of water on a leaf. The artist focuses our attention on beauty—or rather, teaches us how to see beauty. He teaches us to pause, just as this rainy morning has taught me, to alter our gaze, and to allow the world to be transfigured. The artist teaches us to see, not everything all at once (because this has confused us), but the little, tiny strokes of beauty. From there he opens our eyes to the reality of infinite beauty, purity and holiness. He opens our eyes to God Himself.

The tiny strokes of beauty are ones that we can imitate by our gentleness and silence. And the more we truly see and experience beauty, the deeper our longing for beauty becomes. The more we long for beauty, the more we long for God—for an intimate union with Him. And so in a way, we can say, “The world will be saved by beauty!” It is God Himself who has given it to us, created us for it and is beautiful Himself without flaw. He is calling us to this perfect beauty and to see it in each other, so we can cry out with the bridegroom in the Song of Songs: “You are all beautiful, my beloved, and there is no blemish in you” (4:7).

The process and experience of the artist not only teaches others to see beauty in the world; it also allows the Holy Spirit to work in the artist himself and transfigure him and his vision. This transfigured vision allows us to see the joy and the grace of God that permeates all things, even suffering.
“An all-embracing love…transfigures its object, making the human environment transparent, so that the uncreated energies of God shine through it” (Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, “The Spiritual Father in Orthodox Christianity”).

Blessed John Paul II also has wisdom for us on this topic, in one of his letters to artists:
"Human beings, in a certain sense, are unknown to themselves. Jesus Christ not only reveals God, but fully reveals man to man. In Christ, God has reconciled the world to himself. All believers are called to bear witness to this; but it is up to you, men and women who have given your lives to art, to declare with all the wealth of your ingenuity that in Christ the world is redeemed: the human person is redeemed, the human body is redeemed, and the whole creation which, according to St. Paul, 'awaits impatiently the revelation of the children of God' (Rom 8:19), is redeemed. The creation awaits the revelation of the children of God also through art and in art. This is your task. Humanity in every age, and even today, looks to works of art to shed light upon its path and its destiny” (Letter of Pope John Paul II to Artists, n.14, April 4, 1999).
What a beautiful opportunity we have today to reflect on beauty: the Feast of the Transfiguration!

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