There's an ‘infinite Ocean of beauty,’ wonder and joy

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 30, 2006

Earlier this summer I ran a couple of columns on the statement by the Russian writer Dostoevsky that “the world will be saved by beauty.” I also ran a summary of Nobel laureate Solzhenitsyn’s essay on that quote.

Your responses have been deeply moving. One of our Calgary coffee companions, an author of books on happiness, wrote:

I had no problem with your adopting Dostoevsky's statement as a guiding light for your column and life, even though I have not read anything by either Dostoevsky or Solzhenitsyn other than occasional quotes.

This being the case, and with my focus being on happiness, I interpret the statement totally differently – and, if I may say – more positively.

Like you, I see beauty everywhere. It is in the rising of the sun, the first snow, the colour of the trees in the fall, rainbows, a baby's cheerful gurgling, the way a loving eye sparkles, the wonder of the cosmos. I could go on forever.

When humanity appreciates all this beauty around us, the world will truly be saved. We will all then be closer to God than we have ever been and there will be no need for all the dogma and opinions that divide us.

—David Ambrose, Calgary

An Edmonton coffee companion would heartily agree with David’s focus on natural beauty, and especially on its role in healing. She has just come through four months of  knee surgery, not without painful setbacks. Home at last, she wrote:

Now that I am able to sit outside for a while, I am enjoying the beautiful flowers and the antics of the many birds and squirrels that come to our feeders. The Painted Lady butterflies did not return this year, as they were able to return to their original migration route. How I miss them.

Just as my husband and I snuggled into bed the other night, we were serenaded by the coyotes that live in the river valley. A couple of packs were calling to each other for several minutes – wonder if it had anything to do with the bright orange full moon! The howls are so haunting and varied, and we felt privileged to have heard them.

—Barbara Stevens, Edmonton

Then there’s this response from a British Columbia writer and teacher within the Waldorf education movement:

One of our Canadian Poets, F. R. Scott, said, "Politics is the art of making artists. It is the art of developing in society the laws and institutions which will best bring out the creative spirit which lives in greater or less degree in every one of us. The right politics sets as its aim the maximum development of every individual. Free the artist in us, and the beauty of society will look after itself." (Quoted in Sandra Djwa's biography of the poet, The Politics of Imagination.)

It's worth noting also that in Waldorf education, the years between seven and 14 are devoted to educating through all facets of the curriculum that sense of beauty – awakening in each child the artist whose feeling life can become an organ of cognition. The social life of the class with the teacher who journeys with the class from Grade 1 to Grade 8 is a studio where this artistic sensibility is cultivated.

–Philip Thatcher, Vancouver Island

I’d like to wrap up this topic for the time being with reference to Pope John Paul II’s 1999 Letter to Artists.

“May the beauty which you pass on to generations still to come be such that it will stir them to wonder!” he wrote. “Faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude.”

Thanks to wonder-engendered enthusiasm, “humanity, every time it loses its way, will be able to lift itself up and set out again on the right path. In this sense it has been said with profound insight that ‘beauty will save the world.’

“Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savour life and to dream of the future. That is why the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy. It stirs that hidden nostalgia for God which a lover of beauty like Saint Augustine could express in incomparable terms: ‘Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you!’

“Artists of the world, may your many different paths all lead to that infinite Ocean of beauty where wonder becomes awe, exhilaration, unspeakable joy.”

© 2006 Warren Harbeck

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