United Church of Christ

Into the Mystic: Ars Gratia Artis

Into the Mystic - January 28The world is an artful place, if you stop and let yourself take it in from time to time. What are the things that you appreciate in God's grandeur of the world?

“She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless clime and starry sky,”

That’s Byron for you – in  the opening line of his poem  describing beauty, he creates beauty himself. I derive great satisfaction reading that  poet, that poem, that  line.

Ars gratia artis  - a Latin phrase meaning ‘art for the sake of art.’ Beauty  has  its own raison d’etre. It needs  no other  justification for being other than  it is. 

There is a new spiritual practice. When the new year  rolls around, spiritual  seekers are asked to reach into a basket where single words are written onto  a star: star words, they are called. Each star in the basket has one word written on  it. The trick is to reach in without looking, making your choice totally random. Whatever word you find written on the star, which you are then invited  to carry with you throughout the year, is to used to guide your prayer thoughts for the year. During the year, you  can reflect on how attention to that  word is feeding your soul and spirit. At the end of the year, you can then examine how that  journey has enriched you.

My word for the year is ‘beauty.’ I have heard some people talk about how the word  they chose confused or disappointed them, but as they  walked with it through their year together they were surprised to learn how valuable it became. Not so for me. The first  second I saw my word I was  delighted. Ars gratia artis, baby. I have long lived with and loved that concept.  The thought of  spending my year in spiritual contemplation of and daily attention to the array of beauty  that surrounds  us all that we too often  and too easily take for granted delighted me.

And so my journey with beauty has begun. I am  going to enjoy this year.

I am remembering moments  where beauty has taken my breath away: standing face to face with Michelangelo’s Pieta in the Vatican; seeing  Mimi, my wife of almost 36  years, for  the first time – and almost every time since; holding my three children  and now two grandchildren for the  first time; sitting at the Grand Canyon eating a peanut butter sandwich; fly fishing at  9,000 in the Pecos Wilderness in New Mexico  with a herd of elk lingering; walking the foot of the Pyramids  in Egypt; standing at the front door of  the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in  the Old City of Jerusalem; reading the  poetry of Emily Dickinson or   Robert Frost for the first time; walking into my basement and looking at  my son’s  painting of Christy Matthewson; standing on the tee  box and watching Tiger Woods hit a golf  ball; sitting on the hood of my car leaning back against  the front window and watching  the stars  come  out  in  the southern Arizona dessert; standing behind a mountain waterfall in Norway; looking  across the valley as the jeep drove  through narrow and steep roads deep in the Andes; looking out from the bell tower atop a church overlooking the  city of Dresden and  taking  in the panoramic view of the city and countryside; looking from the  city  of Pest across the Danube to  the capitol  building in the city of Buda; walking the city of Havana and watching  the cars drive by; hodling the child of a   Syrian refugee living in a tent in the Jordanian desert while his mother stood smiling. 

I could  go on, and  on and on. And I will – this year.

I will spend it  breathing in beauty. I will delight  in the simple pleasure of it all and  give God thanks.

May you also know  the pleasure of your own encounters  with God’ grandeur on  this, your journey Into the Mystic.


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