The love of divine beauty

Picture of Patrick Corbett CSsR

Patrick Corbett CSsR

Father Pat is a Redemptorist priest and writer

This is the sixth article in the series on Prayer by Pat Corbett CSsR.


He writes: Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain to pray. As he prayed, his face changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning. Luke (9:28)


Prayer is a mystic entering in

to secret places full of light.

It is a passage through the night.

Heaven is reached, the blessed say,

by prayer and by no other way.


This is the opening verse of a poem titled ‘Prayer’ by Jessica Powers, a modern Catholic mystic and a Carmelite nun. Respected as one of America’s greatest religious poets, she died in 1988 but has provided a deep insight into the link between prayer and the beauty.


The Eastern Church speaks of prayer as “the search for divine beauty”. And it was Pope John Paul 11 who wrote; With penetrating insight, the Fathers of the Church have called this spiritual path Philokalia or Love of the Divine Beauty. In the countenance of Jesus, the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15) and the reflection of the Father’s glory (cf. Heb. 1:3), we glimpse the depths of an eternal and infinite love which is at the very root of our being.


The Eastern Church looks to the moment of the Transfiguration as the ultimate experience of prayer and Pope John Paul 11 again remind us: It is singularly helpful to fix our gaze on Christ’s radiant face in the mystery of the Transfiguration. A whole ancient spiritual tradition refers to this “icon” when it links the contemplative life to the prayer of Jesus on the mountain.


The three disciples caught up in ecstasy hear the Father’s call to listen to Christ, to place all their trust in him, to make him the centre of their lives.


Pope John Paul 11 invited the Western Church to begin to breathe with what he described as our two lungs. He speaks of prayer as a way of breathing with the lung of the west and the lung of the east. However, the Pope was not the first to have this insight. Bede Griffiths, a Benedictine monk declared: I am going to India to discover the other half of my soul!


He wrote these words while living as a Benedictine monk in England and observing the many hours of prayer outlined in the Rule of St Benedict. The monks rise in the middle of the night for the long prayer called Matins. They gather again for early prayer to begin the day and return three more times to the chapel before finally reciting the prayer called Vespers and the last prayer of the day. Compline!


Why would Bede need to find the other half of his soul and why look to the East for this discovery.


Dom Bede Griffiths OSB 1906 – 1993, also known as Swami Dayananda was born Alan Richard Griffiths. He grew up an Anglican and recounts the story of his conversion in his autobiography The Golden String. When he graduated from Oxford, he joined two friends in an experiment of common living where they followed a lifestyle attuned to nature. Later, he would see this time as the beginning of his conversion. He was received into the Catholic church on Christmas Eve, 1932. Significantly, the ceremony took place in the Benedictine monastery of Prinknash. Then, a month later he joined the Abbey as a postulant.


“I had long been familiar with the mystical tradition of the West, but I felt the need of something more which the East alone could give; above all the sense of the presence of God in nature and in the soul…”  Bede Griffiths, Christ in India: Essays towards a Hindu-Christian Dialogue (Charles Scribner’s Sons: 1966).


For me, Dom Bede Griffiths has been a sure guide along the difficult path of prayer and meditation. His many writings echoed something of my own search; especially his understanding of the Jesus Prayer. He speaks of his time in his Benedictine monastery.


Each day after vespers the monks at Prinknash Abbey in Gloucester, England had a time for meditation, but it was meditation of a kind that Dom Bede would regard with hindsight as slightly un-systematic. “You just let your thoughts go.”


Concurrent with his reading of eastern philosophy, he began to use the Jesus Prayer – ‘Lord Jesus, Son of the living God have mercy on me’ – a prayer which he found very helpful when his mind began to wander and one which he has continued to use ever since. There would come a point where it seemed to him to be constantly present in his body, something like a natural rhythm.


Today, many lay people are part of the World Community for Christian Meditation. This promotes a way of prayer using a mantra as first taught by John Main and made a world-wide way of prayer by Laurence Freeman.


To be faithful to this way of prayer, participants recite a mantra for a set time morning and evening using the concluding words of the Book of Revelation, Maranatha  “Come Lord”. It is repeated silently interiorly as four equally stressed syllables Ma-ra-na-tha: Not only is this one of the most ancient Christian prayers, in the language Jesus spoke, but it also has a harmonic quality that helps to bring the mind to silence.


The praying of the Rosary is well known to many as a way of combining a mantra prayer with mediation on the mysteries of our faith. It is possible to use the Rosary to accompany the mantra and begin and end the day and enter into silence. In the words of the English songwriter John Paul Cooper:


And though I never said it with words
There was love in the silence
Even now after all of these years
You’re the light in my darkness.


Image: Titian Transfiguration c1560 SanSalvador.


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