W. Paul Jones, a Catholic priest, hermit-monk, poet, and theologian explores the sacred meaning of space in his latest book. Here are some of his thoughts on the spiritual practice of beauty.
"Beauty is a word seldom heard today. Efficient, productive, useful yes. But beautiful? Or if it is heard, images are of Breck shampoo or nominations for being the 'ultimate driving machine.' Yet I remember a suggestion a researcher made concerning the multiple problems surrounding present-day sexuality, personally and socially. 'I propose that we have a moratorium on all talk about sexual technique, even about sexual ethics. Instead, let our focus be on beauty.' Such choreographing of our living and its spaces has been a significant aspect of the Church's thinking and doing through the ages. As early as Augustine, we find beauty to be a central category even for understanding God.
"'Beautiful is God, the world with God. . . . He is beautiful in heaven, beautiful on earth; beautiful in the womb, beautiful in his parents' arms, beautiful in his miracles, beautiful in his sufferings; beautiful in inviting to life, beautiful in not worrying about death, beautiful in giving up his life, and beautiful in taking it up again; he is beautiful on the cross, beautiful in the tomb, beautiful in heaven. Listen to the song with understanding, and let not the weakness of the flesh distract your eyes from the splendor of [God's] beauty.'" (Quoted in "Vita Consecrata," in Origins, vol. 25, no. 41 - April 4, 1996.)
"But while persons might notice something 'attractive,' or observe someone who is 'pretty,' beauty is an intrinsic quality for which our senses must be formed if we are to participate deeply. Otherwise Picasso's women don't look like women, and Van Gogh's stars don't look like stars. Particularly in need of formation are eyes capable of being grasped not simply by the beauty of the extraordinary, but of the ordinary."