Our world is starved for authentic beauty. We spend our days staring at screens that shape our perception of reality. Through the rapid development of technology, we have in many ways given ourselves over to unreality. We no longer look up and look out at the world. We see this when we go about our day as we watch countless people glued to their smartphones—too many of them children—and we catch ourselves attached to our screens. This leads us to seek the artificial over the real. To seek beautiful things in 2D—some of which are intentionally artificially manufactured—on our screens instead of the beauty of God’s creation around us.
We have stripped our churches and convinced ourselves that we don’t need to move upward towards God through beauty. We are lonely, but we no longer know where to look. We are heavy, but we continue to be burdened by the technology at our fingertips. The Lord wants to speak to us of His beauty through His Creation, but we seldom take the time to look.
One of the most beautiful aspects of St. Therese’s Story of a Soul is her words proclaiming the beauty and grandeur of God. She was intimately connected with God’s beauty in Creation. She even saw the Lord bestowing His loving gifts upon her through His created things. This was not some Neo-Paganism that worshipped the earth. No, she saw God’s beauty through flowers, mountains, snow, sunshine, and walks as a child. She saw Our Lord in everything.
St. Therese shares a story in her autobiography from her clothing day when she saw God’s love for her through the beauty of His creation and her connection to Him through snow:
“Do you remember my telling you, dear Mother, how fond I am of snow? While I was still quite small, its whiteness entranced me. Why had I such a fancy for snow? Perhaps it was because, being a little winter flower, my eyes first saw the earth clad in its beautiful white mantle.
So, on my clothing day, I wished to see it decked, like myself, in spotless white. The weather was so mild that it might have been spring, and I no longer dared hope for snow. The morning of the feast brought no change and I gave up my childish desire, as impossible to be realized.
The instant I set foot in the enclosure again my eyes fell on the statue of the Child Jesus smiling on me amid the flowers and lights; then, turning towards the quadrangle, I saw that, in spite of the mildness of the weather, it was covered with snow. What a delicate attention on the part of Jesus! Gratifying the least wish of His little Spouse, He even sent her this. Where is the creature so mighty that he can make one flake of it fall to please his beloved?
Everyone was amazed, and since then many people, hearing of my desire, have described this event as “the little miracle” of my clothing day, and thought it strange I should be so fond of snow. So much the better, it shows still more the wonderful condescension of the Spouse of Virgins—of Him Who loves lilies white as the snow.”
Beauty permeates the entirety of St. Therese’s spirituality. In fact, her deep love for the gift of Creation as a reflection of God’s beauty deepened her childlike faith and dependence. We need to recapture this awe and childlike dependence on God lest we move further away from Him.
As our culture becomes more and more technocratic, a great danger exists that we will become unhinged from the beauty of God’s Creation and become more and more alienated from Him and ourselves. Our Edenic origins deeply embedded within us will not somehow be transcended through technology, if anything, we run the risk of becoming even more lost. The Lord wants to give us good things through His Creation. We need moments resting in Him through the glories of this world He has created. Doing so allows us to see reality more clearly.
Beauty is one of the most useless and essential things in existence. Beauty cannot be possessed. It cannot be used. It must simply be accepted as a gift from the Creator. It seeks nothing from us. It simply is. Beauty brings together harmony, radiance, and peace. The sunset we see on our way home from work, if we look up, is a gift from God. He wants to heal and minister to us through His beautiful works of Creation. Like St. Therese, the Lord bestows gifts on his little children through natural beauty.
I have always had a deep connection to God in His creation. Growing up in Montana, I knew from a young age the rugged beauty, power, and clarity of God. My childhood was formed by snow-capped peaks, clear running streams, roaring waterfalls, and fields of wildflowers. The Lord often ministers to me through His Creation.
I no longer live in Montana, but He began showing me His loving presence—much like St. Therese—in an unlikely way when I moved to the East Coast. He shows me His presence often through dolphins. In moments of deep struggle and pain, I have found that the Lord has the dolphins He created put on the most spectacular shows in the waves. So amazing are these acrobatic feats that my jaw quite literally drops. Dolphins are an ancient symbol of Christ, but for me, they also bring about a childlike innocence and dependence on God that I lose sight of in my day-to-day life. Like St. Therese, the Lord gives me these gifts to reveal His love and presence to me.
St. Therese shares another experience of God’s beauty earlier in Story of a Soul when she is on a train to Rome making its way through the Swiss Alps:: “On our way into Italy we passed through Switzerland, with its high mountains, their snowy peaks lost in the clouds, its rushing torrents, and its deep valleys filled with giant ferns and purple heather. Great good was wrought in my soul by these beauties of nature so abundantly scattered abroad. They lifted it to Him Who had pleased to lavish such masterpieces upon this transient earth.” It’s important to note that St. Therese does not admire or seek beauty for its own sake. She embraces beauty because it lifts her mind and heart to God. This is why beauty is an essential piece of our walk with the Lord.
Beauty is a glimpse of God. God is Beauty Itself. It reveals to us aspects of who God is in a veiled manner. Beauty lifts us outside of ourselves and points us toward our ultimate home in heaven. It leads us to forget ourselves and to embrace something beyond us. More than anything, beauty is how God woos us, to borrow a phrase from a friend of mine. In moments of tremendous beauty, when we see God’s presence, the veil is lifted and for a brief second Edenic innocence returns.
The Lord wants to reach out to us in the digital age through the beauty of His Creation. It may be a tiny flower in a crack in the sidewalk of a major city, the rugged Rockies of the West, the older luscious green Appalachians, the roaring waves of dolphin-clad oceans, or the glory of a sunrise. Our screens cannot do true justice to the world around us that God created out of love for us and that He gave us stewardship over. He wants to bring peace to our tired souls with the healing salve of His beauty. Will we have the courage to turn towards our Creator to the beauty we are made for in Him or remain lost in the blue glow of unreality?