Six years ago, I found myself sitting in a classroom in one of the most beautiful, über-modern buildings on campus. I was in a graduate course surrounded with incredibly intelligent and kind classmates (a rarity in grad school in my experience, sadly), and two very experienced, passionate, and sophisticated professors.
The title of this graduate course in the Humanities? "Beauty."
The great irony is that while we talked about the concept of beauty, studied many beautiful works of art, and had incredible discussions on the subject, it was one of the driest classes I ever had. I never once experienced the feeling or experience of beauty which had so many times gripped me as an undergrad in literary classes. There was no lack of great materials, wonderful colleagues, and truly inspiring professors. But for me, for whatever reason, She just was not there.
Life is all about Beauty. We wake up for Beauty. We live and strive for beauty. We kill for beauty - to posses and control it.
Every worthwhile pursuit in this life is along the lines of beauty.
I am at this moment listening to a song (on repeat) in a language I haven't spoken since I was a small child, one for which I resentfully refused all entreaty to learn because of how bitter I felt at having being ignored and chastised for so many years as a youngster because I didn't speak it. And here I am listening to it and looking for language lessons on youtube... JUST because the song is beautiful.
Not because I wanted to please my extended family members. Not because I felt shame at not being able to speak or understand it. Not even because I wanted to connect to loved ones on a deeper and different level. JUST because the music was beautiful. Because of ONE. SONG. That alone drew me into a chain of events and decisions I would have otherwise never made.
Forget "love" (such a clouded word for such a noble ideal), Beauty makes utter prating fools of us all.
We search for Beauty, whether in the face of a mate, the deftly-woven words of poets, the tender oscillations of music, or the raving chaotic strokes of art.
Debussy assaults our sense of time, sentiment, and rhythm as Van Gogh draws us into the abyss of his despair only to leave us tottering at the edge, while Borges' Library of Babylon bids us leap... into madness at the relentless, noble futility of meaning.
If men truly are "arrant knaves all," Beauty is indeed our mistress. She bids us draw nearer just before she gives us the slip. Just as you brush against the hem of her garment, you find yourself suddenly alone. You play the same song that sent you careening through stratospheric delight two days ago, and it's mere notes clanging against strings. You read the same poetry that drove you to fits of weeping when you were young, and it's mere words falling against the pavement. You look deep into your favorite painting, expecting the same spark of madness, only to be met with dull appreciation and familiarity.
Beauty has moved on. She will not be in the same place twice. You can bet your life on it.
I think hunting down Beauty trains us for the pursuit of God.
In the words of St. John of the Cross,
| Where are you hiding? | Where have you gone? | O Lord of my being, | You left me alone.
| Like a stag in the forest | You charged me and fled. | You vanished. I followed, | Lamenting my loss.
Poems of St. John of the Cross. Jones, Kathleen. Pg. 23
I found this audio recording on my phone, which I will transcribe here. It is in my voice, but I have no memory of speaking these things, which sound like the ravings of a madman to me. Nevertheless, such as it was, I convey here:
"You see, I am wounded.
Not the kind of wounding that men blather on about, no.
Let all the pangs of despis'd love line up one after another and do their very worst to me.
It will not measure.
It will not register in the least compared to that one Wound which I will never be healed of.
The wound of Beauty.
The wound of Love.
Love not only not despised, but not denied.
And yet, that for which I must wait for the fulfillment of.
The one Beauty, the one Love all mean scream and clamor and go to war for without realizing it.
That one Love which all men substitute with lesser copies and mere shadows.
That is the Love for which I live.
That is the Love for which I would gladly die."
Umm, yeah. No idea. Papa Johns must have put alternative mushrooms on my pizza.