“The part played by the senses in the perception of beauty is even rendered enormous in us, and well nigh-indispensable…only sense knowledge possesses perfectly in man the intuitiveness required for the perception of the beautiful.” (Jacques Maritain)
I am convinced that many people would experience improved mental well-being if they increased their contact and communion with the natural beauty of God’s creation.
God, who is, as the scholastic theologians say, in His creation by His POWER, PRESENCE and ESSENCE is most assuredly present in the transformative beauty of the natural world.
Commenting on the healing power of nature, Saint Pope John Paul II made the following observation:
“The aesthetic value of creation cannot be overlooked. Our very contact with nature has a deep restorative power; contemplation of its magnificence imparts peace and serenity. The Bible speaks again and again of the goodness and beauty of creation, which is called to glorify God.” (Pope John Paul II, 1990 World Day of Peace Message, no. 14.)
What is being urged upon us here is an improved communion with nature. Who hasn’t felt a special feeling of tranquility walking along the ocean shore, or gazing upon a majestic mountain? And yet how often do we find ourselves cut-off and deprived of the beauty of nature for many reasons. Pope Francis made this observation in his recent encyclical on the environment, saying, “In some places, rural and urban alike, the privatization of certain spaces has restricted people’s access to places of particular beauty” (no. 45).
Father Irala, in his popular book, Achieving Peace of Heart, tells us that “we must live beauty.” He maintains that we need to be “reeducated” to “receive the external world.” This means, in one context, that if we are looking at a beautiful river we should spend some time peering into it – contemplating it – so that we may receive the vital influx of its beauty. It’s as if he was saying, “take some time to stop and smell the roses.”
Father Irala tells an interesting story about a businessman who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It was apparently felt that the overworked businessman needed some time away from his hectic office to unwind and rejuvenate, but since this remedy wasn’t feasible his physician requested that “an aquarium of tropical fish built in his private office and that he spend an hour every day peacefully watching the graceful convolutions of those little creatures.” It is related that “before the year was out he sent a donation to [his physician’s] hospital as a token of gratitude for his cure” (p.41).
Perhaps many of us need to be reoriented to the beauty of the natural world and its deep healing power. If we are alienated from nature, we are in some sense alienated from God. Near the end of Laudato Si, Pope Francis wrote these poetic words:
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures. You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty. no. 246
Let us not only protect life and beauty; let us immerse ourselves in its “restorative power.”
Autumn is here. Turn off your computer. Put your cell phone down. Go out and enjoy the beauty – unmediated by technology – of such a beautiful season!
Tom Mulcahy, M.A.
P.S. As a practical example, many of us spend time walking along a nature trail. To reeducate your mind to the beauty of nature, spend some time actually peering into the moving stream along the trail, or looking receptively at a strange but beautiful flower you pass by. Father Irala says that we should let the beauty “enter deep into us.” We are not talking about pantheism, but rather about God manifested through the beauty of his external creation. This is, in essence, a form of religious contemplation.
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