Sometimes we hear the remark: “Easy on the eyes”, applied to a beautiful woman. And, indeed, there is some truth in the observation. Such a woman is easy to notice and observe.
It’s a matter of beauty. But, there is beauty, and there is beauty. Even as we reflect on our own use of the term, we realize that, in our own case, that is true. A golf pro on the course can hit a magnificent shot down the fairway, evoking from onlookers the exclamation: a beautiful shot! Or a woman on the dance floor can whirl and twirl in rhythmic fashion, eliciting admiring comments about what a beautiful dancer she is. Or a tenor can hit a piercing note in a popular song prompting remarks about what a beautiful voice he has. Or a racehorse can cross the finish line with its mane flowing, far ahead of its nearest rival, and the crowd will praise the beauty of its stride and its rippling muscles.
So, is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Are some eyes more attuned to beauty than other eyes, or is it rather that some eyes see beauty in one place, while other eyes fasten on beauty elsewhere? How should we prompt ourselves in this matter? Should we continue to value our skillful ability to spot beauty in a particular area of life, or should we train ourselves to expand our ability to see the beauty all about us, because, apparently, it can be found in various places, by different people?
The foundational source of the beautiful in life is God. We don’t often apply the notion of beauty to God, preferring instead to note His power, or His wisdom, or His goodness, or His holiness, or His eternity, or His infinity. But, on reflection, we realize that beauty is as much a drawing power to the Person of God as any of these other qualities. In fact, some of the most cherished prayers handed on to us are in the Book of Psalms, among which are found paeans of praise about the beauty of God. And while we can admit that the power of God can strike terror in us, we should also realize that God’s beauty can evoke awe in us. The psalms are rich in their ability to sing the beauties of nature, whether it be the clear water cascading down a hillside, or a field full of blooming wheat, or a sunset shimmering over a body of water, or the snow atop a mountain peak. These are all nature’s finest examples at reflecting bits and pieces of the beauty of God to attract us, because nothing is so alluring as beauty.
Beauty can appeal to all our senses. We can see beauty, we can hear beauty, we can feel beauty, we can taste beauty, we can even smell beauty. Beauty enhances some of our most memorable experiences. That is why we value art museums or symphony halls: they are exclusively devoted to presenting outstanding examples of the beautiful. The church too, within the relatively small confines of the Vatican state, has established and endowed these tributes to beauty, over the centuries. At times criticized for not selling these artistic treasures so as to distribute the proceeds to the needy, the church realizes their potential for drawing people to God precisely under the guise of the beauty they enshrine, not just for one generation, but for all generations down the ages.
And while the focus here is legitimately focused on such masterpieces of beauty, this need not disallow the many other instances of beauty to slip by us without being noticed. Education to the appeal of beauty should look to more than the human brain. There is beauty all around us, beckoning our eye, our ear, our smell, our touch, our taste.
Beauty, when appreciated in all these ways, can lead us Godward. So, in reappraising things we encounter every day, we should not take them for granted, and their own style of beauty, by failing to appreciate them.
This is the art of daily living, noting the beauty all around us. It is said of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the lily of the Mohawks, that, having rejected proposals from many braves, attracted by her beauty, she contracted small pox in her twenties, which disfigured her face, so that she was no longer desirable for marriage, which was fine by her. But at the moment of her death at a young age, when her body was placed on the bier, her face regained its original beauty, to the amazement of the onlookers. Is beauty just a matter of being in the eye of the beholder?
There is an art to discerning beauty, as displayed by Jesus when he saw Nathanael and the promise that he held out before the searching Jesus, leading Him to say of this future apostle: “There is no duplicity in him.” (Jn. 1.47) And when the surprised Nathanael replied, in so many words: “Have we met before?”, Jesus replied: “…I saw you under the fig tree.” (Jn 1.48) Jesus had mastered the art of sighting a form of beauty, in an unlikely place. That is a lesson to be learned by all of us.