There is so much hatred and ugliness in the world. Sometimes it is overwhelming. One cannot read any news these days without being bombarded with stories of the most sickening kind of violence. Where do we find peace, hope and love? Where do we find true beauty in the midst of so much depravity? This is a question for each individual to answer.
For me, I have once again found comfort in spirituality, in faith and belief in God. I have lived long enough to know what life is like without faith, and what life is like with faith. And, despite the numerous difficulties that necessarily go along with such beliefs, the life of faith is better.
Often I have extolled physical beauty: a beautiful landscape, a beautiful work of art, a beautiful woman. These are all important manifestations of God’s presence in our world. And yet there is another kind of beauty, an internal beauty that comes with faith. We can see this sometimes in others, we can feel their inner beauty refining the atmosphere about us, like a cool ocean breeze that softens the brutal intensity of a summer sun. Perhaps their faith is completely different from ours; and yet we feel something that is good in them, and we know that this goodness is a reflection of the eternal God. In the end, it is all a deep mystery.
Prayer is the gateway to such experiences. As Pope John Paul II used to say, “Without prayer we can do nothing”. Through prayer we can reach another world, a world unseen, but a world that is still as beautiful, if not more, than the physical world surrounding us. It is a different kind of beauty. It is a beauty that is lasting, untouched by corruption, free from the stains of violence and ugliness. It is beauty that stretches throughout space and time, reaching as far back into history as possible, and traveling far beyond the limits of the universe and into eternity. Our understanding can only hope to grasp one small part of this, and yet this one small part is so immense and profound that we could spend every waking moment contemplating it, and never come to any real or concrete understanding of its true essence. And yet the more we contemplate such beauty, the more we thirst for a deeper draught.
As the great St. Augustine said, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new!”
Now we seem to live in a world which seems utterly devoid of prayer and faith in anything except whatever thrills the latest technological advancement brings. What is ugly and what is bizarre seem to be what are most valued. The iron laws of nature are ignored and we believe that we can declare ourselves to be whatever we want to be. And in those parts of the world where religious faith is strong, there seems to be a deep sickness and madness overcoming many. We live in strange times. Many of us wonder what is becoming of the world.
But in the end we remain, as Socrates once described us, “featherless bipeds”. Whether we like it or not, and no matter how much we may want to imagine otherwise or try to change what nature has ordained, or how much we are dazzled by our own cleverness and power, we are still creatures of this earth, dependent upon the earth, our fates completely intertwined with the natural world around us, and there is nothing we can ever do to change that. This is the way it has been since the first humans emerged from Africa 100,000 years ago, and this is the way it will remain until the end the time. In this age of technological wizardry and massive state controlled systems of life, it is important to remember just how quickly that technology can vanish, how industry, governments and even civilization itself could suddenly crumble, whether through natural or man made disasters, and how quickly we could return to being utterly dependent on ourselves, upon what we and grow from the earth or find through hunting for our survival. We ignore all this at our own peril.
And yet in all the difficulties of life, faith remains. Prayer remains. Our need for and belief in God remains. It is and always has been part of our human condition, despite the modern Western world’s best efforts to ignore this. And with faith and prayer there is beauty, a beauty that also provides the strength and sustenance to help us endure the vicissitudes of our everyday world, and perhaps that is the most powerful kind of beauty of all.