Sometimes we recognize beauty on sight.
Where beauty exists in the natural world, it’s often easily discernible. Other times, we have to dig to see the beauty or observe from a different perspective to grasp its intricacy or totality.
Whether we readily recognize beauty or not, its creation isn’t a slapdash affair. It can be a complicated, messy process that requires deliberate planning, execution, and revision.
However difficult it may be to infuse our art with beauty, it is critical to its acceptance and appreciation. Truth and beauty create transcendence, and it’s transcendence that resonates with readers. Beauty, in its universality, becomes personalist.
“In so far as it seeks the beautiful, fruit of an imagination which rises above the everyday, art is by its nature a kind of appeal to the mystery. Even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption.”
This passage, taken from Pope Saint John Paul II’s 1999 “Letter to Artists,” sets the bar high for any artist. Writers assemble letters into an inexhaustible number of unique arrangements to create truth and beauty, and in doing so, touch upon something so innate, so universal, that it brings life to the deepest stirrings of our souls.
While writing can and many times should be light, its purpose is not to be taken lightly.
So often in life, we choose expedience over luxury. The shortcut rather than the scenic route. The functional over the ornate. Pressed for time and pulled in a dozen different directions, short and to the point is often better than long-winded and grandiose.
After all, you can appreciate music anywhere, not just in the confines of a spectacular concert hall. You can eat anywhere, not just in a fine restaurant. And you can worship anywhere, not just in a grand cathedral.
So, too, can the words you create and consume be utilitarian. Words are used to describe furniture assembly, medicinal dosage, and technical documentation. But they are also used to profess love, offer prayers, and pour out heartfelt confessions.
So accustomed are we to those humdrum uses, that we can fail to recognize and recall the beauty and artistry of words.
In a 2002 message, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) wrote:
“The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes, so that later, from this experience, we take the criteria for judgment and can correctly evaluate the arguments.”
To illustrate this arcane point, he follows with an example, one to which many can relate. Then Cardinal Ratzinger recalls attending a Bach concert conducted by Leonard Bernstein. He says, “The music had such an extraordinary force of reality that we realized, no longer by deduction, but by the impact on our hearts, that it could not have originated from nothingness, but could only have come to be through the power of the Truth that became real in the composer’s imagination.”
He’s talking here about the existence of God, but even aside from the theological implications, it rings true. Who hasn’t felt the truth in the swelling crescendo of music, the subtlety of a painted likeness, or the recitation of mellifluous words?
Words capture truth and beauty in a myriad of ways. Not by sight or sound or meaning alone, but by all three.
Words possess physical beauty. It is seen in a looping descender or a graceful ascender. There is beauty in practiced, professional calligraphy and in a loved one’s unique script. There is intrinsic beauty in a recipe written lovingly by the hand of a now-deceased grandmother and in the elementary scrawl of a young child writing “I love you” for the first time.
Words have aural beauty. A beauty expressed in rhythm, alliteration, and sometimes onomatopoeia – a beautiful sounding word in itself.
Words have cognizant beauty. They possess the power to elevate and enlighten, to encourage, and to embolden. Perhaps most importantly, through their truth, they communicate that we are not alone.
That perhaps is the greatest mystery and magic of words. Created alone or consumed alone, in private or public, in silence or aloud, executed by flesh and bone or binary sequence, they exist because another exists. Because truth exists. And beauty exists. If only we have eyes to see it.
Carolyn Astfalk resides with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania. She blogs at My Scribbler’s Heart (http://carolynastfalk.com/category/my-scribblers-heart-blog/) Her debut novel, Stay With Me, will be published by Full Quiver Publishing in October 2015.