Can't find that quote

Does anyone know where I can find it?

Recently, I saw a quotation that meant something like, "until you can see the beauty in a thing, you cannot really see it." I've looked but can't find my source or the quote. (Wouldn't it be reasonable that an adult woman would have the sense to write these things down and keep them in a safe place? And did I behave in that reasonable manner? This time or any other time? No, I did not.)

Whatever that quotation was, I agree with the sentiment. I do not think you can see a thing for what it is until you can see the part of it that is beautiful or good. This works in extreme (and extremely overused) examples like Nazi Germany.

What was good about that? Well, at first, it was going to solve the hunger and poverty issues of a lot of very real people who loved their children. The solving of hunger and poverty issues is not a bad thing to have. Social order is not a bad thing to have. But, (is this one Charlotte Mason, perhaps?) we must "have nothing to do with a logic that does not include the love of God." The Nazis had logic on their side -- it was the dearth of love that confused the issue. But they had reasons, and the reasons were good. Attractive. Seductive only because they were actually good.

Remembering to include the "good" or "beautiful" in my own perception of things keeps me seeing them properly, and helps me not to stray into being dismissive. It is an aid to humility - a constant reminder that my own memory, understanding, and will are not complete. See the whole thing, or you do not see it truly.

Now for a more mundane example, and the one that brought this all to my thoughts.

A very good friend of mine recently made what must be the twentieth or thirtieth irritated and dismissive comment about the beauty (perceived by millions for about 500 years now) of the King James version of Holy Writ. You don't have to be a person of any religion at all to know that the King James version of the Bible, and Shakespeare's plays and sonnets, and Bach's and Mozart's music, and Michaelangelo's paint strokes are all things of great beauty. This isn't a religious issue, and has nothing to do with "Bible only" thinking or Bible thumping or Bible debating (odious pasttimes, all three). This has to do with universally recognized and indisputable beauty.

Another famous quotation says that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." And when we hear that, in our oh-so-modern lives, we hear "if it's not beautiful to me, it's not beautiful."

That, my friends, is just stupid. I'm sorry, but it is.

I'm also sorry to say that the other day, I erupted a bit on my friend. Erupted and interrupted and overrode - all in a very calm tone of voice, insisting as if to a child, that he listen to reason this time. (I feel a bit bad about that part of the exchange. ...sigh ... He will forgive it. He's heard it before.)

I am a little chagrined to admit that I even made use of the famous pointing finger. All my family hates the pointing finger, and my children all believe themselves to have been raised primarily by its pointiness and sometimes even its poking. I really don't poke. (much) But I do point. And when my friend said, "I see nothing beautiful in it. It makes no sense at all most of the time," the pointing and waggling of the finger started, and the voice in my head came out my mouth and I said,

"If you find no beauty in it, that says everything about you, and nothing about it. It's exactly like fine wine or good food or good music or anything else that is a matter of taste and the training of the palate. There is a wide range of good taste, but there is a difference between a developed taste for high quality and beauty, and an underdeveloped and ignorant lack of it, and you know it. You might not be able to start with the deepest, most complex red wines, but if you want to appreciate the subtle character and influence of wines, you teach yourself to find it by practice, right? When you say you see no beauty in it, you only say that you yourself are not educated properly so that you cannot see what is there. But it is there, and you need to figure out a way to see it."

(so ... wanna be my friend? Oh, c'mon ... it'll be fun!)

Of course, it's easy for me to defend such beauty as the Psalms in the language from the age of King James and Will Shakespeare. I have a slightly more difficult time when it comes to the things I find startling or unfamiliar or disturbing.

What, for instance, is the beauty and the good in the destructive and arrogant hatred of a religious zealot, willing to kill for a cause he believes in, calling it the will of God? In what way can we call that good? Is it courage - or anything like it - that forms a suicide bomber? Or a placard carrying hate-monger who would protest at a funeral, hurling insults at the bereaved? How is that "good?"

I think there is a way to see a "good" in these most heinous human actions.

You see, I think that Saint Teresa knew the Truth when she said, "I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions." (Interior Castle)

We often crush and destroy and sully and vilify the beautiful human soul. Hatred is, I think, one of the most corrosive ways in which we do this.

But it is corrosive to a thing of great beauty, and that is its evil. The dignity and indescribable beauty of the very image of God, creation's humanity, those set in the beginning as lords and masters of the rest of all created matter, are meant to be strong and valiant and even wisely self-sacrificing. Humans are meant to tend the garden. We are capable of Notre Dame and manned space flight and discoveries in the depths of the sea. We can find ways to feed the hungry and comfort the helpless.

Or we can find the equally amazing and exactly the opposite destructive uses for the power. We are only capable of the greatness because we are also capable of the horror. Only those who can hate can also love. It is not much of a chore to come to love the beauty and goodness of the great phrases like, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want," or "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." But looking for the beautiful in faces twisted with hatred or fiery with zealous rage takes a little more effort, and I am coming to believe that the answer is found in the fact that God made us like castles made of diamond, and we know desecration of the sacred when we see it. And if we will put it all to rights, we will grieve for the hateful - and stop them.

1 comment:

Ami said...

I only really appreciated the genius of the KJV after Hebrew became my day to day language. For example, in the original Hebrew there are three different words for sin, and the translators reflected that by finding three different words in English to correspond to the Hebrew. Of course, no matter how beautiful the KJV, it can't compare with the original ....