Road-tripping to the Twin Cities a couple weekends ago, my friend and I white-knuckled our way through tenuous weather, a measured echoing of Hail Marys marking many of the miles.
“Don’t look at the cars in the ditch,” I mumbled as she drove, too far to turn back.
Finally reaching the Women in the New Evangelization conference, an event themed “Beautifully United in the Spirit,” our greeter assured us we’d arrived on the wings of angels, and that blessings awaited.
The next day, sunshine glistened like prism beams on snow-laden tree branches, and the weekend’s flourishing continued with an opening talk on beauty.
Saint Thomas University professor Liz Kelly made the case for our culture’s deep, desperate need for beauty. “All that exists carries somehow the imprint of paradise,” she said, borrowing from Josef Pieper’s “Only the Lover Sings.” “Beauty invites us to contemplate the divine.”
We were created for “the true beauty of immortal glory,” Kelly continued, “to witness and teach the invisible things of God, to be the beauty of God’s form in the world, and to impress it upon others.”
Beholding beauty, “our heart is filled with a desire for loftier regions about which this beauty speaks, and it looks upward with longing,” she read, reciting Dietrich von Hildebrand.
My soul surged at the sublimity of these truths.
But just as beauty can uplift, its absence can do the opposite, Kelly said, leaning on Hans Urs von Balthasar to warn: “Whoever sneers at (beauty’s) name…whether he admits it or not – can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.”
Indeed, hell disparages beauty, she charged, and will “throw a tremendous amount of energy” at it to thwart it. “The Evil One is on the prowl.”
While we basked in beauty in Brooklyn Park, Minn., back home in Fargo, a conversation was erupting regarding my just-published column on our culture’s growing embrace of degrading language.
The next morning, at the Cathedral of Saint Paul, the Old Testament reading from Sirach 27:4-7 fittingly came forth: “When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear; so do one’s fault when one speaks…The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind.”
I marveled at the cohesiveness of all these – the column on cursing striking a chord, a talk on our thirst for beauty, and now, these apt readings from Scripture.
As the New Testament reading from Luke resounded, my Lenten commitment to choosing healing words came before me again: “…for from the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
Though a sinner like all others, I yearn to speak from a heart formed in beauty, and to accept Kelly’s challenge to seek and behold beauty in its many forms. “Real beauty is selfless,” she reminded, “pointing us to a love that does not fail; the love of the author of life.”
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on March 16, 2019.]