The raw stuff of religion.
It may be that, in the course of emphasizing the absolutely critical nature of relationship in the spiritual development of our people, the quest for/authentic appreciation of/submergence in all the glorious diversity of the World’s innate Beauty comes in an achingly close second (so much so that they are, in my mind, practically synonymous). Beauty, which is the Subject of poetry, and thus possesses its own language, is that which whispers in the core of my body and makes my heart sigh and laugh and dance - it is that which makes me involuntarily inhale in joy - that holy gasping in the face of something so purely wonderful that your body knows it as true Beauty before you do. The first time I consciously witnessed a perfect example of this was when I was 11 years old.
We had only just moved to Colorado, and that summer the days were particularly hot and we were particularly bored - school hadn’t started yet, and we hadn’t been there long enough to have friends. In order to relieve us all of our growing discontent and the oppressive heat, my mother piled my sister and I into our craptacular minivan and hauled us up into the Rockies to visit a “park” called Estes Park (much to our delight, we promptly discovered that Estes Park, CO is not a park but rather a scenic touristy mountain town, home of the Stanley Hotel, which was the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining). We toodled up the mountainside dutifully watching the creek and looking at the pine trees, and then we rounded a particular turn... and the Luminous World literally unfolded itself in front of us, revealing snow-capped peaks, a golden valley and a sparkling lake. My mother clutched her chest and inhaled sharply, and in a teary, breathy voice cried “Oh!” and then launched into a passionate paean to the mountains that didn’t end for nearly the entire day (we’re on the whole a rather emotional people, my family). I’ve never forgotten that moment. Whenever I think of that mysterious force that some call Awen and some inspiration and many other names (as noted in many books on creativity - the word “inspiration” comes from Latin meaning “to breathe”), that Holy Gasp, that breath that brings with it the fiery wonder of poetry, I think of that moment with my mom, and how the Earth unfurled Herself in that moment of utter Revelation. This is what I mean by Beauty.
I believe that Beauty is a fact of our existence, that it exists independent of our perceiving it, though in also exists in intimate concert with our perception of it (via the precious marvel of our bodily senses), and when this true relationship with Beauty is engaged, Beauty is enhanced, and movement and growth occur in fantastic ways. I believe that Beauty creates and is created. In the practice of my faith I try to make the seeking of Beauty a priority - I may even go so far to say that the pursuit of Beauty is close to the summation of my spiritual journey as a whole. The gods and goddesses are the personifications of the diverse complexity of Beauty in the world - though, of course, this does not always make them safe, or “good” (just as Love is a deeply complicated thing, so is Beauty), or even pretty or nice to look at.
Being pleasant to look at does not necessarily indicate Beauty. Take, for instance, compost - an ingenious, Beautiful, gorgeous, unattractive, gross, icky and glorious process. Decomposition is Beautiful. Death, in itself, is Beautiful (though the methods by which Death is achieved are not always such - while Death may be Beautiful, oppression, torture, murder, genocide, war, all of these are insurmountably Ugly). When I pray, I pray for Beauty. I pray to Beauty. I pray because of Beauty. When Beauty is broken, my heart is broken.
And oh, and for sure, and forever and ever, Beauty is the fountain from which poetry springs:
by Emily Dickinson
I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.
He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth - the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.
And so, as kinsmen met a-night,
We talked between the rooms.
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.
So I would hope that as we all, poets and singers and dreamers and doers, find our paths to Beauty, we might see those pieces of it, whether in simplicity or in complexity, that are our own, and when even our names have been obscured by moss and time and good Death, we rest happy, scattered in and among the Beauty we died within and beneath and through. And for.