This post is dedicated to David Clayton, for showing us The Way of Beauty
Meditation of the Day
Before Frodo departs the Hall of Fire to spend time with Bilbo, his attention is arrested by the intoning of a hymn to Elbereth. He looks back, and notices that Arwen and Aragorn are speaking together. “Arwen turned towards him, and the light of her eyes fell on him from afar and pierced his heart” (Bk2 Ch1). It is no coincidence that this piercing of Frodo’s heart by Evenstar’s inner beauty happens at precisely the moment when she is conversing with her beloved Elfstone, the one who would lay down his mortal life for her, and for whom she would lay down her immortal life. There is nothing that makes divine Love more perfectly visible in this created world than the love of man and woman—made in the image and likeness of God, called to form a one-flesh union.
This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.Ephesians 5:32
Of course, spousal love is not the only earthly reality that can have this transfixing effect on us. All true art can pierce our hearts. When this happens, everything mundane, as ponderously real as it seemed, is suddenly dispelled as though it were but a bubble. Time is suspended, as we unexpectedly touch the eternal. Everything truly human in us awakens.
But Frodo is not merely beholding Beauty (as he had already done during the feast, seated at Elrond’s table); now he experiences being beheld by Beauty. His innermost self is exposed to a Beauty that has a name, that knows his name. And it is a gaze of love . . . which is both consoling and painful. Arwen gazes at Frodo, as one in whom she perceives the same self-emptying love that animates her and her betrothed; as one without whose voluntary self-offering their nuptial union would be impossible. Their destinies are inextricably linked. There could be no greater expression of the debt of love that Arwen Evenstar feels toward Frodo than her parting gift to him:
‘A gift I will give you. For I am the daughter of Elrond. I shall not go with him now when he departs to the Havens; for mine is the choice of Lúthien, and as she so have I chosen, both the sweet and the bitter. But in my stead you shall go, Ring-bearer, when the time comes, and if you then desire it. If your hurts grieve you still and the memory of your burden is heavy, then you may pass into the West, until all your wounds and weariness are healed.’ (Bk6 Ch6)
Like John the Baptist, the celibate priest Frodo is a “friend of the Bridegroom.” It is fitting that he should pass into the West while Elessar enters into his glorious reign. “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:29-30).
The Blessed Virgin is God’s masterpiece, the highest expression of uncreated Beauty in a created being; she is no inanimate statue or painting, but a living person who can return our gaze, who knows our name, who loves in us what she first loved in her Son, who desires to reproduce his likeness in us as we invite and allow her to do so. To be consecrated to her is to live under the gaze of Beauty continually. To consecrate something means to set it apart, to withdraw it permanently from profane use so that it may be entirely dedicated to divine service. To consecrate our senses to our Blessed Lady, the perfect created manifestation of uncreated Beauty, requires us to withdraw them from what is deformed and corrupted by evil, and to direct them instead toward “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely” (Phil. 4:8a).
|O Domina mea! O Mater mea! tibi me totum offero, atque ut me tibi probem devotum, consecro tibi hodie oculos meos, aures meas, os meum, cor meum, plane me totum. Quoniam itaque tuus sum, O bona Mater, serva me, defende me, ut rem et possessionem tuam.|
Invocation in any temptation:
O Domina mea! O Mater mea! memento me esse tuum. Serva me, defende me, ut rem et possessionem.
|My Queen! my Mother! I give thee all myself; and to show my devotion to thee, I consecrate to thee this day my eyes, ears, mouth, heart, myself wholly and without reserve. Wherefore, O loving Mother, as I am thine own, keep me, defend me, as thy property and thy own possession.|
Invocation in any temptation:
My Queen! my Mother! remember I am thine own.
Keep me, defend me, as thy property, thy own possession.
- Going through our five senses one at a time, let’s consider what it means concretely for us to withdraw them from what is profane and reserve them for the sacred. In our highly visual and overstimulated age, this may mean periodically giving our senses a break from the relentless pummelling we subject them to, from dawn to dusk. In other words, choosing to switch off our screens and finding rest in something that is simply and naturally beautiful. Like a flower, a poem, a piece of music.
To Go Deeper
- Msgr John Myler, Images of the New Eve in Lent
- Cheryl McGrath, “The Song (of the Bride)“