American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Beauty is the handwriting of God." During a much earlier time period, St. Augustine said, "Late have I loved you, beauty so ancient, and so new; late have I loved you." In these magnificent quotes, the sacred and secular intersect and invite not only insight into God who is complete beauty, but also contemplation on God, who is love.
God has ordered creation in such a way that beauty is part of the very fiber of humanity. As the crown of creation, human beings are wired behold true beauty. In Ephesians 2:10, sacred Scripture tells us, "We are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life."
To be human is to realize that human life in all its glory is God's masterpiece, and one way to discover God is by being aware of, and attuned to, the beauty and goodness that surrounds us.
In its purest form, natural beauty is stunning, and awakens wonder in one's soul. Think of the majesty of a place like Niagara Falls, or the blazing inferno of color in the changing fall leaves that invites one's gaze. The wonder that is stirred by the recognition of beauty can be a path to God, from whom all beauty originates.
Both St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI spoke and wrote about beauty as a way to God, particularly in the area of human creativity. In his 1999 letter to artists, St. John Paul II encouraged "epiphanies of beauty," and the flourishing of the arts for the renewal of humanity. Pope Benedict XVI affirmed the creative abilities of people who produce works of art through sound, language, color and form. He explained the significance of various types of artistic expressions and the need for humanity to go deeper into truth to bring about the elevation of human soul. These great men saw human beauty, and the works flowing from human creativity, as reflections of God's divine beauty made manifest in the world.
Beauty, in all its forms, is a gift from God and a lens through which to see and experience divine love. St. Augustine's quote reminds us that God's beauty invites us into a loving relationship with our Creator. The love for which we all yearn, who is God Himself, is as near as the person who is next to us and as close as our natural surroundings if we have the eyes to see what is most good, beautiful and true about them.
As the fall colors explode with beauty in the next few weeks, let's be mindful of our God the master artist behind it all. As the masterpiece unfolds, let's remember that we are part of it, and let us not only cultivate beauty, but behold it with awe, knowing that it reflects the very presence of God.
At the end of the day, the world can be more exquisitely beautiful because we have been a part of it, and recognized the beauty that is within and around us.