Into the Mystic: Ars Gratia Artis
The 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.