I was busy highlighting and taking notes during a recent course at the Theology of the Body Institute when I was startled to hear Christopher West say, “Suppose there is someone who is incredibly drawn to…I don’t know…antique glass.” What!? I couldn’t believe my ears and dropped my pen. “Why is he drawn to this glass?” West continued. “Who knows, but know this: God is at the source of the attraction.”
The topic that morning was prayer in the Christian life and how the theology of the body can point us toward a deeper understanding of prayer. I knew I needed to listen up because my husband’s love of — yes, American brilliant cut glass — was literally filling up our home.
This exchange came after pointing out that prayer is motivated by “the ‘love of beauty’ [that] is caught up in the glory of the living and the true God” (CCC 2727), and West was encouraging us to grow in prayer by focusing on that which awakens our hearts. God speaks to us through the things we find beautiful. Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1999 Letter to Artists that “following created beauty where it leads takes us to an infinite ocean of beauty, where wonder becomes awe, exhilaration and unspeakable joy.” In other words, God Himself is Beauty.
I do find my husband’s glass collection beautiful. Stunning even. I approached West at the break and asked him why, of all things he could have used as an example, he chose antique glass. “No idea; it just popped in my head,” he said. But he encouraged me to be supportive of finding God in the glass. “It could be as simple as God knows Greg loves the artistry and skill of this particular type of art, and has provided it to him in abundance to show the beautiful truth that He loves Greg in abundance!”
West encouraged the class to look for the beauty that catches our hearts, be it in creation, music, art, literature. But it is important that “the sign leads you to the Signifier.”
Leah Darrow knows well how easy and tragic it can be to get lost in the false beauty pushed in the world. A former model and contestant on America’s Next Top Model, Darrow found herself lost in a world that focused only on outward beauty.
“Starting when I was young, I was brainwashed into believing that my worth was wrapped up in how I looked,” she wrote in her book, “The Other Side of Beauty.” “After all, from what I had seen in life, beauty seemed to be everything, and loved seemed to be given in response to beauty.”
It took several years and what Darrow calls hitting her rock bottom before God blessed her with a transformational experience in the middle of a photoshoot that led her to walk out and completely away from the life she had been living. It put her on the path to understanding authentic beauty and the deep love of God.
“I know I’m not the only one who has found herself seduced by imitation beauty,” she wrote. “The promise of being and feeling beautiful have been whispered into the ears of millions of girls all over the world. In my return to faith and reason, I’ve gradually come to understand that true beauty should always point to its original source and lead to the development of a beautiful soul. Surprisingly, this has little to do with glitter stilettos and fake eyelashes…God alone [dictates our worth], and He sees us as ‘very good’ (Gen 1:31).”
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