Awakening to Beauty
19th February 2021
By Alex Nelson
As our first news story for 2021, Alex Nelson shares some thoughts about “Awakening to Beauty”.
The experience of awakening to Beauty can be described as having our eyes and heart opened to love. Throughout our lifetime we may find ourselves amazed at the beauty of many or even all beings and drawn to fall into love and to be in love with them. An experience of awakening may sometimes carry an echo of memory for us, a sense of our being alive here once again within an embracing Presence, with a surge of hope for an open future yet to be realised.
In Kitchen Table Wisdom, her delightful collection of ‘stories that heal’, Rachel Naomi Remen includes one titled Surprised by Meaning. She recalls a story that Harry, an emergency physician on duty at a busy hospital, tells about being called on to deliver a baby when the mother’s obstetrician is not able to arrive in time for the birth. Harry, well-practised in delivering babies, gladly responds to the request.
While the little girl was still attached to her mother, Harry laid her along his left forearm. Holding the back of her head in his left hand, he took a suction bulb in his right and began to clear her mouth and nose of mucus. Suddenly, the baby opened her eyes and looked directly at him. In that moment, Harry stepped past his technical role and realized a very simple thing: that he was the first human being this baby girl had ever seen. He felt his heart go out to her in welcome from all people everywhere and tears came to his eyes.
Harry’s experience of being seen by this baby girl opened his eyes. Awakened to the presence of this Beauty for the first time, he saw himself, as a doctor in the delivery room at this moment, being connected to all humankind. And he wondered about all the times when he had missed this sense of connection.
This story may lead us to recall and enjoy some of our own eye-opening experiences of Beauty. Whether in familiar contexts of everyday life or in places or situations very new to us, these moments claim our attention and reveal to us something surprising and beautiful, leaving us wondering what implications this awakening may have for our life from now on.
Laurence Freeman notes that experiencing Beauty takes us beyond our present awareness. "Beauty always points through and beyond the form in which it appears. By means of a small part it gives us an experience of the whole".
In a particular moment of exposure to Beauty, something attracts us; perhaps like a burning bush that Moses saw. It takes us into holy ground where we may be lost for words to name what it is that claims our attention in this way. We may fall back into silence knowing simply that this experience is awesome.
Or, like Harry, we may desire now to know more about an encounter that up till now we have not seen so clearly. Even though he worked with pleasure, genuine attentiveness and professional care, he was accustomed to consider his work in the birthing room in a technical way – as Harry, a subject (I) who engaged in delivering a newborn baby, an object (It). The Beauty that apprehended him changed his perspective into the I –Thou relationship of mutuality. In our experiences of awakening to Beauty, we too may find ourselves moving to a new perspective of mutually ‘being-in-love’ with what we encounter. Seeking to discover how to be in relationship with the presence in the burning bush, Moses asked, ‘What is your name?’
The phenomenon of awakening to Beauty that leads to relationship in love is something that infuses the way in which indigenous people may perceive and describe country as their mother who sees, knows and accepts, protects and nourishes them. Seeing themselves and country from this perspective, they long to learn from their lore what their identity is, and to discover what their relationship to country requires of them. The indigenous practice of Dadirri, involving deep inner listening and awareness, like other practices of meditation and contemplation, is a way to be in mutual love with the wonder and Beauty of all that is.
Our experiences of awakening to Beauty may continue through our lifetime for as long as we are able to be attentive, and desire to be with the Presence that we encounter in contemplation and love.
At times, we have no words to respond to our rich experiences of Beauty. It may be enough for us to allow ourselves to be embraced as I and Thou in a vital silence. We may sense, in wonder, that in this moment we are at one in relationship with God the Trinity, and all Being, as I in We.
As we remain awake to Divine Beauty in our lives, I offer some questions for your reflection.
May our waking up to Beauty take us beyond our pre-set ways of seeing, judging and dealing with who and what we encounter, and bring us gifts of enlightenment and connection.
May we awaken to the Divine Beauty in work, play and prayer in our lives among family and friends, neighbours and strangers throughout the world.
May we see Divine Beauty present in people with disability, and all affected by violence, neglect and poverty.
Alex Nelson is a member of the Eremos Retreat Team.
1 Rachel Naomi Remen, Surprised By Meaning, Kitchen Table Wisdom, 1996.