On a casual spring walk “I am waylaid by Beauty” in the spirit of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. The bursting redbud trees, fluting birdsong, and waving daffodils toss my rambling thoughts to the wind and invite me into their world for a moment of feeling. This feeling has the flavor of something larger and more enduring and hopeful than me, myself, and I. In an instant, I lose my sense of individual self-enclosure and I go wide, feeling the world as part of myself and more than myself. Such simple spring beauty connects me with the very tenderness of God, and it feeds me for hours, days, a lifetime.
One moment of drinking in beauty, and my thirst for belonging is quenched. It seems to me that beauty is a portal to that Great Togetherness, for as the philosopher Roland Faber says, “We are the togetherness of everything.” (The Mind of Whitehead, p. 33)
Beauty in all its forms opens us to the “togetherness of everything.” Traveling down a country road, listening to Murray Perahia play Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 1, I am swept away in a depth of feeling that surges up from centuries past. I feel that I am touching the mind of Bach himself — feeling what he felt — alive to the divine inspiration he experienced when composing this piece. It seems incredible to me that in a lightning-bolt second, whole centuries fall away; the impediments of history, culture and language disappear! All that is left is naked feeling, as powerful today as it was in 1738. How can that be? It feels like an exploding ball of light and energy bathing me and everything I see in a Great Togetherness. The cows on the hillside nurture their young with tails swishing as if to the music, the oak trees hum along, and the greening trees ‘clap their hands’ while tall grasses sway in rhythm. Bach is here; the cows are here; we are all here together — at the same time!”
Such dazzling moments of musical magic are like the redbud tree, the daffodils, and birdsong: a bursting of divine tenderness reaching out for us, waving, singing — luring us to be bigger than ourselves for the sake of the world. If the music is right for the moment, heaven breaks through the ego’s crusty impediments of worry and despair and self-centeredness. In this way, beauty is sharp; it cuts like a paring knife through not only our ego, but whole centuries of thought and tragedy and human evolution as if all that were mere apple peelings falling to the floor. At the core, we are left with the raw, elemental seeds of human feeling, bursting with divine possibility for new creations, new feelings.
Think of your favorite old song, hymn, or a piece of pottery or a painting — how it leaps over years, decades — even centuries — to connect us soul-to-soul with our human ancestors. As Roland Faber points out, “In a certain sense, everything is everywhere at all times.” (The Mind of Whitehead, p. 46)
Perhaps this is beauty’s great purpose: to connect us with one another, with the earth, with the past, and with the mind of God. In this Great Togetherness of feeling we begin to see a way through. Everything that hinders and divides — even time itself — is pared away; the seeds are sown for a new creation.
Practice: Take a “Beauty Break” and lose yourself for a few minutes in a book of poetry, a nature walk, a piece of music, or a work of art. Find your own portal to the “The Great Togetherness.” Visit this place often and use it as inspiration for creative work, creative thinking, and creative living — for the sake of the common good.