It didn’t take long for it to happen to me once I moved to Vermont. Sure, it has happened to me before, but this time, it stopped me in my tracks.
It happened my first night in Vermont. I took the dog outside one last time before retiring for the night after a day of packing a rental truck and driving it more than eight hours to Fairfax from the bustling suburbs of Philadelphia. It was a clear, cloudless night, and I looked up.
Have you ever been struck so profoundly by beauty that it stops you dead in your tracks? Beauty that hits the pause button on the chaos of life? “To him who made the great lights, the moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever” (Ps 136:9).
When we find a beautiful thing, we often get the urge to stop. Beauty calls us to pause from our life — to ponder or to simply sit and be. Whatever that beautiful thing — or person — might be, we are called to momentarily step outside our ordinary life. It truly may just be a moment in time — when I utter “wow” quietly to myself as when gazing at a beautiful sunset, or it may change the entire course of my life as I gaze into the beautiful eyes of the one to whom I have committed (or will commit) my life as a spouse or as a parent.
It is in this moment of reflection that beauty fuels the imagination. In this world of observable scientific fact, the push for absolute financial security and reason over emotion over faith, imagination sometimes gets minimalized. It is precisely in the realm of imagination, however, that beauty — both natural beauty and created beauty — speaks to us. Our faith leads us to believe that imagination is a gift from God: “like the gift of prophecy, religious imagination is a power through which the Holy Spirit can move and speak” (“Built of Living Stones”). Through beauty, God speaks to our imagination. Beauty becomes a powerful witness of God’s presence and can bolster our faith.
If we think back to the creation story in the Book of Genesis, we recall how God saw what He created as good. When we see the beauty of the created world — whether it is the natural beauty found all around us (especially here in Vermont) or elements of creation shaped by artist, such as a beautiful church — we find a connection to goodness. And truth doesn’t follow far behind.
Bishop Robert Barron quotes theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar who “maintained that the best evangelistic strategy is to capture people with the beautiful, then enchant them with the good, and then lead them to the true.” Where rational argument and debate fail to inspire, beauty can be a witness — a tool for evangelization. Perhaps Fyodor Dostoyevsky was onto something when he wrote in “The Idiot” that “beauty will save the world.”
May our imaginations be enchanted by real beauty that leads us through goodness and truth to the Divine Artist. Then, with St. Augustine, we can exclaim, “late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new. Late have I loved you!”
- Josh Perry is director of Worship for the Diocese of Burlington.
- Originally published in the Falls 2018 issue of Vermont Catholic