It didn’t need to be beautiful. Surely, the grass didn’t need to be green, and the snow didn’t need to be white. I shivered slightly and gripped my hands more tightly around the warm mug. I ran over all the science I had ever learned in school about how it was that the grass was green and the snowfall white. I considered the practical purposes and deduced the helpfulness of my hot tea on a cold morning.
And yet, I still wondered why. Why is it all so beautiful, when it could be any other way? The colors, the silence, the flurry of the snowfall—none of it needed to be so beautiful, and yet it was.
I’ve always prided myself on being a practical person, but the more I consider it the more my heart longs for the extraneous, the extravagant, the beautiful. Let me explain.
What is Beauty?
Whenever we say that something is beautiful, there’s usually something good about it that is also unnecessary– something wonderful that serves no practical function other than to be wonderful. When I talk about beauty or extravagance, I’m not necessarily talking about diamond jewellery or an expensive house. I’m talking about those little extravagances that God gives us daily. A piece of fruit, for example, does not need to taste sweet in order to nourish my body; its sweetness is an extravagance, but God created it to taste sweet anyway. Why? Because He loves us, of course!
One day, while babysitting two 17-month-old little girls, I spent a solid hour making funny sounds with my mouth, and every single time they erupted into giggles. There wasn’t really any practical reason that I was playing this game. I was doing it for the enjoyment of watching their faces light up! Our heavenly Father loves to do the same. He delights in giving us little moments of beauty—the white falling snow, the sweetness of an apple, laughter with our friends—and each of them are absolutely oozing with His generosity and mercy.
Beautiful and Beloved
Humans have a special relationship to beauty that no other creature has. We’re the only creatures that can fully appreciate beauty and find in it a source of prayer, because beautiful things raise our hearts and minds to heaven. They call us to contemplate the source of the all beauty.
I have a theory that we love beautiful things—nature, music, films, books, artwork, and more—because they tell us something about ourselves. We see in the beauty around us the handiwork of the same Divine Artist who created us.
When I see beauty, in all its glory and extravagance, I realize that there is something extravagant about me. None of creation needs to exist; it exists only because God has freely chosen to create it. I exist only because God has freely loved me into existence; I am the artwork of God.
My value and worth are not measured by how useful I am or what others think of me; my beauty remains whether it is noticed or not. And my value comes from the Artist who created me: I am beautiful because I am beloved.
Beauty teaches me who I am, because it teaches me who God is. It reveals God to me as a tender, passionate Artist who delights in His creation.
Praying with Beauty
I didn’t begin praying this way on purpose. I learned a lot about it from my sister, who, as an artist, has dedicated her life to filling the world with beauty. I quickly understood that beauty was the how she spoke to God: He was both the source of her creative drive and the goal of her work and dedication.
The way she speaks of beauty inspired me to reconsider it for myself, and I discovered in it a wonderful refuge when other types of prayer seem unreachable. When my mind is caught up in anxiety or exhaustion, there is a simple question that can fuel prayer in any place at any time: where is the beauty?
A comfy sweater, a glass of water, the presence of a stranger, nature, and even solitude– they are all beautiful in their own way. When we find beauty near us, it is natural to be be grateful for it and to wonder about the One who created it. As Catholics, we have the privilege of knowing intimately the One who created all these things. He is no stranger to us; He is our Father, our Savior, and Lover. And He has left love notes to us, if only we pay attention to them.
Beauty in Darkness
But how do we pray with beauty when He feels far away? Sometimes beauty doesn’t speak to us or inspire prayer. In these times of darkness or desolation when we can’t feel God, we encounter a different kind of beauty, a different kind of extravagance: the extravagance of the cross.
Of all the beauty on earth, there is none that compares to the Eucharist. Of all the gifts God has given us, there is nothing so extravagant as the Eucharist, because He has given us His entire self. This is the beauty we receive in the Eucharist, and in times of doubt or desolation, God invites us to return a little piece of that love. He invites us to find beauty in the most unlikely of places—in the cross.
Sometimes beauty feels hard to find, especially in our crosses; but we have an extravagant God who has surrounded us with beauty to lead our hearts to His. If you want to try but don’t know where to start, here are a couple ideas:
Devote some time to silence. This can be when you first get up in the morning, during your prayer time, before you go to bed, or whenever you want really. Sometimes our lives are so filled with noise that we can’t quiet our hearts, but sometimes a little bit of silence is all we need to become more aware of God’s presence and the beauty that he has surrounded us with.
Journal. Find a bible verse or song lyric that especially speaks to you, and write it out by hand. Don’t rush it, though; take your time. Journal about why it’s meaningful to you.
Make a gratitude list. Beautiful things are things to be thankful for! Take stock of all the little moments of beauty that you might have missed before.
Finding beauty in our everyday lives isn’t difficult if we keep our hearts ready.
When our hearts are expectant, they receive beauty more easily. And why shouldn’t they be expectant? The God we worship is all Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, and He has created us to share in it. Let’s not hesitate to start now.