When Beauty Bores

When Beauty Bores

The first day or two that we were on pilgrimage in Rome, the students were entering church after church with necks that craned heavenward. It was the natural response to the beautiful architecture that we were encountering. They took pictures galore, marveling over magnificent domes and intricate mosaics that adorned the walls. Our hearts were overflowing with beauty. My students from South Dakota were encountering some of the greatest artists the world has ever had to offer.

By day three, however, they were growing bored with the church after church schedule, regardless how beautiful they were. One of the girls that seemed quite invested in photography went from executing creative basilica photo shoots to nonchalantly sitting in a pew during a stop in another church.

“Isn’t it funny how quickly we get bored of all this beauty?” I asked her as I watched other students mill around aimlessly.
“Yes!” she replied, perhaps noticing for the first time how much her response had changed to the loveliness around her.

And we spoke for a few minutes about how amazed we all were the first day and how quickly we were tired of what had been novel only a couple days before. My tiredness didn’t match the students’ expressions, but I did have to remind myself to keep looking at the churches with wonder and not simply let my eyes glaze over.

Too much beauty–is there even such a thing?

Continue reading “When Beauty Bores”

Basic, but Beautiful

Basic, but Beautiful

I have a feeling that for the rest of my life when I return from a retreat, I will only be able to speak of graces and revelations that are profound in their magnitude but elementary in their complexity. This doesn’t bother me, but it was a bit surprising when I came to this conclusion a few years ago. While I’m not saying the Lord can’t reveal anything new to me, I think the revelations will primarily be a deepened understanding and solidifying of truths I already know, albeit superficially.

This understanding came about when I returned from a beautiful retreat. It was enlightening and life giving. Yet the main take-away was nothing new: God loves me. In fact, it seemed laughably basic. Didn’t I already know God loved me? Yes, of course. But after that retreat, I knew it in a deeper, more significant way. I experienced the love of God and it left behind a smattering of old truths seen with new eyes.

Sometimes, the students insist we all keep teaching them the same things. Sometimes, it is true that unnecessary repetition happens. But, it is also true that learning something as a child is quite different than learning about it as a high schooler or an adult. They believe that since they have heard the words before, they know it. Knowledge, however, is something that can be known with the head yet not known with the heart. It is often important to repeat well-known truths because they haven’t journeyed yet from words the mind understands to a reality the heart lives from.

High school students are far from the only ones to do this. The familiar sometimes seems uninteresting when actually we just haven’t plumbed the depths of it yet.

Jesus loves me.
God became man.
The Lord is faithful.
Trust in the Lord.
Jesus rose from the dead.

All of these truths have been heard by Christians innumerable times. Yet how many of these truths have fully penetrated our hearts? How deep of an understanding of the Lord’s love do we actually have? Do we really know and experience the faithfulness of the Lord or do we simply parrot the words? We can stay on the surface with these realities or we can bore down deep and imprint these words on our hearts. Like the circles within a tree, each experience with a particular truth can be packed in deeper and deeper, each additional layer increasing the beauty and profundity of the simple reality.

Continue reading “Basic, but Beautiful”

Holy Homesickness

Holy Homesickness

`My grandmother,’ I said in a low tone, `would have said that we were all in exile, and that no earthly house could cure the holy home-sickness that forbids us rest.’

Manalive, G.K. Chesterton

Sometimes, life feels a bit like a long exile. No place, regardless of how grand or beautiful, seems to work as a perfect home.

When I graduated from college (or maybe it was even before that point), I remember realizing that never again would all the people I love be in the same place. Friends scattered across the country in post-graduation searches for jobs. My heart had experienced profound beauty in multiple places around the world. It produced the aching reality that many places could be home and yet no one place or group of people were entirely home.

Walking the Camino a few years ago, I lived physically what I seem to live internally. I was a wandering pilgrim, looking for the end of the road and a consistent place to rest. So much of me aches and longs for Heaven because I desire a resting place, the place where there are no tears or separations or unfulfilled desires. A place of contentment, communion, and constancy–a home that can never pass away or be divided.

Holy homesickness.

In Chesterton’s Manalive, he speaks about a man who leaves his family in order to re-discover the joy of loving them again. He leaves home to discover home. It does seem to be the case that too often the familiar becomes overly ordinary or commonplace. When I was in Switzerland, I wondered who wouldn’t gape with awe at the majestic mountains that formed the backdrop to the hostel I stayed in for a couple days. Probably the Swiss.

Continue reading “Holy Homesickness”

Where is Jesus in it?

It is painfully beautiful to be alive.

I’ve experienced the piercing blade of beauty.  It makes you wince and feel more alive all at once.  The delicate blanket of fog that covers the lake nestled amidst the Swiss Alps.  A sunrise view atop a radio tower on a mountain in Austria.  Glorious fields of grain stretching to the horizon.  The crinkled eyes of a loved one when they are smiling.  Late nights spent talking with a friend you haven’t seen for too long.  In these moments, the beauty strikes our hearts and it is easy to see, take in, and embrace the glories of being alive.

Sometimes the emphasis seems to fall more on the side of pain as opposed to beauty.  Yet in most moments (I’m not certain if I can argue for all moments yet), one can find beauty in the pain, if one is willing to look for it.

The beauty found in the pain of: waking up early for work, a morning run with a dear friend when talking takes far too much effort, a heart overflowing with all sorts of emotions, and speaking difficult words that later bring peace.

And then there are the moments where life seems to blindside you, where the pain is evident but the beauty is masked.

A young person I barely knew recently died.  I guess I am uncertain what type of response I expected to have.  My heart ached and a heaviness filled it.  At one point, as captive tears broke free, I wondered if this is what it means to have a mature heart, one that can feel pain even when the tragedy doesn’t really change one’s life.  The pain didn’t just last for a few moments but seemed to linger, clouding my thoughts and casting a pallor over the next couple days.

It was uncertain how he died, but I kept imagining the different scenarios I was told.  At Mass on Saturday, I couldn’t help it.  My brain insisted on replaying the possible options, my heart aching with each dramatic death I imagined.  I hoped that maybe I would be able to speak to my spiritual director about it and gain his perspective.  Then I realized that I already knew what he would say to me.

He would ask, “Where is Jesus in it?”

So I tried it.  “Where is Jesus in this tragedy?”  I replayed the awful images but inserted Jesus into the mental video.  There He was–walking right beside the boy, tears coursing down His face, gently whispering his name.  It was a painfully beautiful experience as I watched Him carry him.  Soon I was including a guardian angel and the Blessed Mother into the picture.  It was transforming the scene.  The tragedy was still there, but the beautiful pain was making an appearance.

This truth that I had learned before was once again re-impressed on my heart: Christ never leaves us.  Regardless of what we do, how far we try to run, or what we tangibly experience, Jesus is always present, gently whispering our names, and desiring to enter into the wounds we try so hard to fill with insufficient medicine.

Throughout life, none of us walks or falls or lives alone.  Christ is always there in the midst.  And that is what makes life painfully beautiful.

“There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us.  There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered.  There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us, and does not now bear with us.”     -St. John Paul the Great