Walking beneath the folding branches of my tree-lined street on one particular sunny autumn afternoon, I felt as though I was walking through a canopy of pure beauty. I soaked in the changing leaves all burning different shades of amber, crimson and sienna. The wispy clouds covered a sky the same color as Mary’s mantle. Even the golden glow of the sun was reaching out over all in sight to touch every colorful thing I saw. The very world felt alive. It felt like this walk was accompanied by a living being, breathing in the very essence of the earth and breathing out a soft, whispering breeze. It was, in a word, beautiful.
In spite of being surrounded by such beauty, what I felt inside was anything but. In fact, it felt as though the rug of my life’s plan had been pulled out from under me. I had just moved back in with my parents after quitting what I thought was my dream job. I don’t adapt well to change, and I’d had a plan for my life. But here I found myself in a period of transition, reluctantly and suddenly. There was nothing left to do but navigate the next unknown steps of a life that I had not envisioned for myself just months before. I found solace in fitting myself into the story being told outside in the beauty of nature. I pondered the question, “What is it about this beauty that fills me with so much peace?”
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The Catechism says, “‘God reveals himself to [us] through the universal language of creation’ … ‘for from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator, for the author of beauty created them’” (CCC Nos. 2500, 42). Everything truly beautiful we see, hear or feel is an imprint of God himself. We, in fact, are imprints of God’s beauty. By immersing ourselves in the beauty that surrounds us, a beauty marked by soul-deep peace, is a pursuit of God himself. When we come to be acquainted with the handiwork of God and its beauty, we are coming to know God, in his rich depth of wisdom and his infinite goodness and love. And by coming to know him, we discover more of who we are and the beautiful story he has written for us. I found this to be true as I drew closer to the heart of God through these encounters with his creation.
All around me I started to see how God’s creation changed. It went from one beautiful thing to another — from the warmth and lightness of summer to the fiery crispness of autumn. Jesus reassures us: “Notice how the flowers grow. They do not toil or spin. But I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass in the field that grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you” (Lk 12:27-28). The flowers of the field grow. They change. It is written into the very nature of God’s creation to change. We, as God’s crowning glory of creation, have it written into our existence to change and to grow. Each experience of our lives yields a new and unexpected season of beauty. Just like the seasons of nature, we are called to respond to God’s plan, to seek out the beauty that he lays out for our lives, to draw closer to him.
St. Augustine encourages this pursuit of beauty in one of his sermons: “Question the beauty of the earth … question the beauty of the sky … question the sun making the day glorious with its bright beams …question all these things. They all answer you, ‘Here we are, look; we’re beautiful.’ Their beauty is their confession. Who made these beautiful changeable things, if not one who is beautiful and unchangeable?” When we place our trust in ourselves and our plans, we are placing our trust in the fleeting. But when we place our trust in God, who is unchanging, we have a steady stronghold beckoning us toward something richer and more beautiful than we could have imagined. Though God is unchanging, we, his most precious handiwork, are beautiful in our change. This is where we can rest. This is peace.
My pursuit of beauty drew me in to the one who created me. Placing myself and the changing seasons of my life in the hands of the one who is unchanging has allowed me to recognize a beauty in God’s plan for my life that far outshines my own plans. My soul feels at peace in this season of change.