Saturday, April 16, 2005

Awakening to Beauty

Awakening to Beauty
An Irish poet examines the global crisis over the nature of beauty—
By John O'Donohue, KosmosMarch / April 2005 Issue

WE LIVE BETWEEN the act of awakening and the act of surrender. Each morning we awaken to the light and the invitation to a new day in the world of time; each night we surrender to the dark to be taken to play in the world of dreams where time is no more. At birth we were awakened and emerged to become visible in the world. At death we will surrender again to the dark to become invisible. Awakening and surrender: They frame each day and each life; between them is the journey where anything can happen, the beauty and the frailty.

The human soul is hungry for beauty; we seek it everywhere -- in landscape, music, art, clothes, furniture, gardening, companionship, love, religion, and in ourselves. No one would desire not to be beautiful. When we experience the Beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming. We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful, for it meets the needs of our soul. For a while the strain of struggle and endurance are relieved and our frailty becomes illuminated by a different light in which we come to glimpse behind the shutter of appearances the sure form of things. In the experience of beauty we awaken and surrender in the same act. We find that we slip into the Beautiful with the same ease as we slip into the seamless embrace of water; something ancient within us already trusts that this embrace will hold us.

THESE TIMES ARE riven with anxiety and uncertainty given the current global crisis. In the hearts of people some natural ease has been broken. Our trust in the future has lost its innocence. We know now that anything can happen, from one minute to the next. Politics, religion, economics, and the institutions of family and community, all have become abruptly unsure. At first, it sounds completely naive to suggest that now might be the time to invoke and awaken beauty. Why? Because there is nowhere else to turn and we are desperate; furthermore, it is because we have so disastrously neglected the Beautiful that we now find ourselves in such terrible crisis.

In a sense, all the contemporary crises can be reduced to a crisis about the nature of beauty. When we address difficulty in terms of the call to beauty, new invitations come alive. Perhaps, for the first time, we gain a clear view of how much ugliness we endure and allow. The media generate relentless images of mediocrity and ugliness in their talk shows, tapestries of smothered language and frenetic gratification. Beauty is mostly forgotten and made to seem naive and romantic. The blindness of development creates rooms, buildings, and suburbs that lack grace and mystery. Socially, this influences the atmosphere in the workplace, the schoolroom, the boardroom, and the community. We are turning more and more of our beautiful earth into a wasteland.

Much of the stress and emptiness that haunt us can be traced back to our lack of attention to beauty. Internally the mind becomes coarse and dull if it remains unvisited by images and thoughts that hold the radiance of beauty.
Sadly, whether from resentment, fear, or blindness, beauty is often refused, repudiated, or cut down to the size of our timid perceptions. The tragedy is that what we refuse to attend to cannot reach us. In turning away from beauty, we turn away from all that is wholesome and true, and deliver ourselves into an exile where the vulgar and artificial dull and deaden the human spirit. In their vicinity we are unable to feel or think with any refinement. They cannot truly engage us because of their emptiness; they pound our minds and feelings because they lack the coherence to embrace the inner form of the soul. They are not a presence but rather an absence that evicts and vacates.

A CULTURE IS a complex network of tradition, convention, radiance, memory, dream, and darkness. In our times, travel and especially technology have transformed the boundaries of culture to bring us closer together. Yet the world was never more threatened by raging conflicts of inequality, hatred, and terrorism. It is the ultimate paradox of our times. Why does emerging global unification have such a sinister underside?

Perhaps because the engine of unification has been economics and it has no destination other than acquisition; consequently, it has squandered the privileges and duties of encounter for the sake of economic and industrial connection.

But connection is not encounter. This is precisely where the neglect and repression of beauty lead to disaster. The heart of beauty is loyalty to wholeness and symmetry, and the effect is illumination and radiance. This is always evident in the simplicity and complexity of human encounter. Two humans can meet at an obvious conscious level, but the subconscious of each is always in play and sublimely alert. If this powerful unknown domain between two individuals is not attended to but pushed aside, their encounter will lack depth and often unwittingly activate unexpected negativity and destructiveness between them.

Our global unification has been raging on but merely at a superficial, conscious level. As with an individual, a culture has a subconscious too. We need to acknowledge the subtle yet powerful subconscious of different cultures. A culture's subconscious must be given space and patience in order that it can show itself and guide us in our duties of care, attention, and encounter.

The origin, evolution, and definition of a culture is always an incredible narrative. As well as being a social creation, at its heart a culture is primarily a creation of imagination and spirit. We cannot encounter the heart of a culture unless we attend to its inner creative impulse whose vision and intention is ultimately the Beautiful. A culture that denies beauty sows the seeds of its own destruction. Within every culture there are huge archives and fountains of beauty. The "royal road" to true cultural encounter brings us to its fountain of beauty. When we are admitted there, we stand on universal ground, on a level where conscious and subconscious are in harmonious tension; this is the depth below fear, threat, and otherness.

This is the fecund Field of Springtime within a culture, the one field where the seeds of true beginning can germinate. We need to refine our attention and purify our urgency to make ourselves worthy to enter there. When we do, caricature and hatred of the Other begin to melt away and we are able to meet in our difference, without fear and threat. Otherwise, the lethal pendulum of attack and counterattack will prevail and destroy us all. Imagine the harvest of possibility that would open if the West could attend to the neglected and forgotten creative subconscious of Islam and China -- that Field of Springtime where the beauty of Islam and China await to enrich us all.

Beauty is another order, a deeper level. When we allow ourselves under the persuasion of beauty, our encounter gains integrity, and integrity is the heart of integration, which is the gift we most desperately need now.

Excerpted from Kosmos (Fall/Winter 2004), a magazine that explores "global awakening." Subscriptions: $16/yr. (2 issues) from Box 2102, Lenox, MA 01240;

Friday, April 08, 2005


The sculptor exemplifies the creativity of purifying, sifting, structuring and refining, resting in the unusual position wherein the acts of creation and of appreciation inconspicuously merge, so that every gesture of the sculptor is tending towards his conception of beauty and perfection.

He adapts the human form to the divine purpose and at the same time disseminates divine ideas in a self-aware, but ego-less, activity. Leonardo would often give up sculptures midway because he felt he could not do adequate justice to his notion of divine perfection. Equally, Michelangelo, whenever he saw a thick and uncarved block, felt that he perceived a spirit waiting to be released.

The sculptor is in the unusual position both of rendering beauty and attenuating the redundant dross into a pure refined truth. By reducing the excesses of self, he is subjugating self in order to release it. Eye and hand are perfectly attuned, the emotional elaboration upon the rational theme; he shows a sureness of vision but a plasticity of imagination.

One could relate this to the Taoist notion of the uncarved block, which respects the integrity of the block, whether individual or collective, but also apprehends the sympathy that flows from non-being so that, when a sculptor is cutting away at himself to come to a chaster whole, he is also indirectly contributing towards the creativity of society.

The sculptor obviously provides an important model for self-examination if you think of the way he must move around his object in order to see it from every angle and from every perspective. So, too, when we are engaging in the process of self-scrutiny, it is necessary not merely to consider ourselves in terms mental, physical, spiritual, rational, but also to have an empathic distanced grasp whereby we can see ourselves from the perspectives of other people and from each angle, and thus come to a rounded wholeness while cutting away that which is superfluous.

The sculptor involves himself in a symmetrical flow whereby he is fragmenting in order to make whole, a process pregnant with important corollaries.

Man is at the gateway between mortal and immortal, and the sculptor is poised on that threshold, trying to bridge the gap between a perceptible humanity and a dimly apprehended divinity. We think of Goldmund trying to sculpt and shape the perfect feminine spirit, the feminine principle that guides the universe, although the only way that he can approach the divine conception is by amalgamating all the women that he has known and the creativity from them that he has been privileged to receive.

The prominent characteristics of the sculptor are detachment,
beauty of ideal and clarity of vision.


Thursday, March 24, 2005

Mystery, Beauty, Hope, Faith,Love

"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science."
-A. Einstein, in "Ideas and Opinions: Albert Einstein" (1982)

"Nothing that is worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love"
- Reinhold Neibuhr, The Irony of American History

Friday, February 25, 2005

Fountain of Love (Sketches)

Fountain of Love

Hope and Encouragement

Teilhard de Chardin

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

De Quaerendo Deum - On Seeking God

De Quaerendo Deum (DQD)

De quaerendo Deum, meaning: On Seeking God, a book written by Nicholas of Cusa (or Cusanus) in 1445, 660 years ago.

Truly venerable Brother-in-Christ, l in complying with your desire, as best I
can, I will here attempt to repeat in writing, briefly and clearly, that which I
endeavored to explain to the congregation at the Feast of Epiphany concerning
the analysis of God's name. [I will do so] in order that meditating may be
stimulated on the part of us both and that by the ascent of our intellects our
inner man may gradually be transformed from light unto light—[transformed] I to
the point that [having attained] unto clear recognition through the light of
glory, it may enter into the joy of its Lord.

To begin with,
Excellent Brother, you well know that when on
the Areopagus Paul (who says
that he was caught up unto the third heaven, to the point of beholding sacred
mysteries) preached the truth to those men who, in Athens, were then devoting
themselves to the very celebrated study of philosophy, he stated in his sermon
that he wanted to proclaim to them the good news about the Unknown God, to whom
those pagans had consecrated an altar. And when he proceeded to explain this
matter, he stated that God had created all men in one man and that He had
granted a definite period of time for men's being in this world, in order that
they might seek Him, to see whether they could gropingly find Him. And Paul
added that, nonetheless, God is not far from anyone, since in Him we exist and
live and are moved.

Then, reproving idolatry, he added that in
men's thought there can be no likeness at all to God. Whenever reading the Acts
of the Apostles, I marvel at Paul's procedure. For he wanted to make known to
[these] philosophers the Unknown God, whom thereafter he affirms to be unable to
be conceived by any human intellect. Therefore, God is made known by the fact
that every intellect is too small to be figure or conceive Him. But Paul names
Him God—or Theos in Greek. So given the fact that man entered this world in
order to seek God and to cleave unto Him once found and by cleaving unto Him to
find rest: since man cannot seek God, and grope for Him, in this sensible and
corporeal world (for God
is spirit rather than body and cannot be attained by
the intellect's abstracting, since man cannot conceive of any likeness to God,
as Paul said), then how is it that God can be sought in order to be found?
Assuredly, unless this world were useful to the seeker, man would be sent in
vain to the world for the purpose of seeking God. Hence, it must be the case
that this world offers assistance to the seeker and that the seeker knows that
neither in this world nor in anything which man conceives is there any likeness
to God.
Let us now determine whether the name “Theos,” or “God,” offers
assistance in these matters. For the name “Theos” is not that
name of God
which excels every concept. For that [name] which cannot be conceived, remains
ineffable. For to express is to externalize an inward concept by means of words
or other befiguring signs. Therefore, the name of Him whose likeness is not
conceived is not known. Hence, “Theos” is the name of God only insofar as God is
sought, by human beings, in this world. So let him-who-seeks take careful
account of the fact that in the name “Theos” there is enfolded a certain
way-of-seeking whereby God is found, so that He can be groped for. “Theos” is
derived from “theoro,” which means “I see” and “I hasten.” Therefore, the seeker
ought to hasten by means of sight, so that he can attain unto God, who sees all
things. Accordingly, vision bears a likeness to the pathway by means of which a
seeker ought to advance.

Consequently, in the presence of the eye
of intellectual vision
we must magnify the nature of sensible vision and
construct, from that nature, a ladder of ascent.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Innovation in Dutch

Check out Progressieve Innovatie

Sunday, February 20, 2005

What is freedom?

What is Freedom? Does freedom exist?

Freedom according to Teilhard de Chardin:
That life has a meaning, meaning that what we do has an effect.

That what we do has an impact on the Universe.
We are free to play a role (or not) in this meaningful life.

Freedom according to Lucado:
The freedom to choose right from wrong, to choose right for the right reasons

Freedom according to Marx?