P. S: You’re beautiful!

Hallowed Art

"BELOVED: I hear my love. See how he comes leaping on the mountains, bounding over the hills. My love is like a gazelle, like a young stag. See where he stands behind our wall. He looks in at the window, he peers through the opening. My love lifts up his voice, he says to me, 'Come then, my beloved, my lovely one, come. For see, winter is past, the rains are over and gone. 'Flowers are appearing on the earth. The season of glad songs has come, the cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree is forming its first figs and the blossoming vines give out their fragrance. Come then, my beloved, my lovely one, come. My dove, hiding in the clefts of the rock, in the coverts of the cliff, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is lovely."
(Song of Songs 2:8-14)- First Reading, 21st of December 2013.

Yep, guess who got to read this today at Mass. Maybe it’s the Irishness in me but I was kind of cringing. Excuse the pun, but it seemed overboard ‘lovey-dovey’ for that hour of the morning. However, as I got through the first few lines, I reminded myself that this was Sacred Scripture I was reading. This was God’s word to me, God’s love letter to humanity. 

Today’s first reading today comes from the Song of Songs, in which two engaged people express their longing for one another. The verses dart back and forth from the feelings of the woman to the feelings of the man. To her, he is like Superman, leaping tall buildings, seeking her out! To him, she is beautiful beyond compare. What strikes me in this reading is the amount of times that the beloved is told that she is lovely, that she is beautiful. The passage is full of compliments bestowed by the Lover. Irish readers will probably agree with me when I say that we are not very good at accepting compliments. If someone congratulates us for a job well-done, usually we play it down and look at the flaws. If someone compliments us on looking nice or for something we are wearing, a typical response is ‘Oh, I have this years’, or else ‘sure I got it in Penneys!’Would it really cost us that much just to say ‘thank you’ and accept the compliment? Yet, deep down, we seek out that assurance that we are accepted, that we are wearing the right clothes, the right makeup, the right hairstyle. It forms our identity.

Poets and philosophers have long pondered the mysterious nature of beauty: Is beauty only what pleases or teases the eye of the beholder? Or does a more universal beauty exist that can attract people of all ages and cultures? What makes a person beautiful? Isn't there perhaps something more enduring that offers a glimpse of the divine? Theologians calls this the ‘via pulchritudinis’ or the ‘way of beauty’. It is a via, meaning a path towards something, and that something is God wherein our happiness too is found.
The beauty of Christianity’s art is also called the Via Pulchritudinis. It includes art, sculpture, music, singing, drama and literature. Pope Benedict, in his Address to Artists spoke of this. The beauty that the arts convey presents to the beholder something of the glory, harmony, simplicity and love of God. They invoke in the beholder a thought of transcendence, a feeling of awe, what we can call ekstasis; a drawing out of oneself by and towards something exterior to ourselves, yet compels our interiority. This is also the experience of true love, the experience which we are witness to in the reading mentioned. The via pulchritudinis is also the beauty which we appreciate in each other. However this sense of beauty needs to be cultivated. In Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s book “ The Brothers Karamazov”,  Dimitri Karamazov confided to his brother Aliocha: "Beauty is a terrible thing. It is the struggle between God and Satan, the battleground, my heart." If beauty is image of the creator God, it is also the child of Adam and Eve and so in turn marked by sin. The human person risks falling into the trap of beauty taken for itself—the icon become idol, the means that swallow the end, truth that imprisons, trap into which people fall, due to an inadequate formation in the senses and the lack of a proper education regarding beauty.”
As a religious, dealing with external elements of ‘beauty’ is somewhat easy. Choosing clothes is not very challenging, it’s either blue or white or white or blue! We don’t use make-up or hair products. It is very much the ‘natural’ look which is part of living a vow of poverty and also striving to live a simple life . The reading from the Song of Songs challenges female beauty somewhat. Ironically the use of the symbolism of the dove is a great segue into this next train of thought! Part of Dove's Real Beauty campaign, which aims to help women realize how beautiful they truly are, the video shows women of all ages as they hide their faces in various ways after realizing they are being filmed. They are so conscious of their flaws that they don’t want to be on camera. The struggle is between the inner and the outer beauty.

It's not the first inspiring ad that Dove has produced this year. You might recall that in May, Dove released Real Beauty Sketches. According to them, only 4 percent of women think that they are beautiful. If you haven’t seen it already, the ad depicts an FBI forensic artist named Gil Zamora sketching women (that he can’t see) by the way they describe themselves. Then a stranger comes in and describes the same woman. The differences in the two canvases is amazing. The video which went viral immediately sought to show how women see themselves as less attractive than they already are. It is true, there is huge pressure on women to look perfect. From plastic surgery to smoothing skin and erasing wrinkles to enlarging muscles and slimming waists, airbrushing, or "photoshopping,”, the bombardment does not do much for self-esteem. These images don't reflect reality, yet from a younger and younger age, people are aspiring to these biologically impossible ideals, dangerously so.
If only people would realise that for 2000 years, God has been telling each one of us that we are beautiful in His eyes because we are created in the image of his Son. We don’t need One Direction or James Blunt or other music artists to tell us that we are beautifully created to believe it. The beauty of the love of Christ comes to meet us each day not only through the example of the saints but more so through the holy liturgy, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist where the Mystery becomes present and illuminates with meaning and beauty all our existence.

As we continue during these last days of Advent, we take a moment to realise that Christ comes into our flawed existence. He sees the heart, the inner beauty and with our life, creates a perfect work of art!