A popular quote we often hear but find hard to understand is “beauty will save the world.” The line comes from Dostoevsky’s novel “The Idiot,” attributed to the main character, Prince Myskin.
The prince, an epileptic Russian nobleman, serves as a Christ-like figure, who stands apart for his innocence and even naiveté. Out of the mouth of this idiot comes a clearer vision of beauty and reality than those around him, his clarity heightened even in the midst of his sickness.
Two recent popes found inspiration for their words in these same words of Dostoevsky. Pope Benedict XVI, in his essay titled “Meeting with Artists,” quoted Dostoevsky from his novel, “Demons.”
Pope Benedict said, “Dostoevsky’s words that I am about to quote are bold and paradoxical, but they invite reflection. He says this: ‘Man can live without science, he can live without bread, but without beauty he could no longer live, because there would no longer be anything to do to the world. The whole secret is here, the whole of history is here.’”
Pope John Paul II quoted the same line in his “Letter to Artists,” under the heading “The Saving Power of Beauty.”
Pope John Paul II said, “People of today and tomorrow need this enthusiasm (of wonder) if they are to meet and master the crucial challenges which stand before us. Thanks to this enthusiasm, humanity, every time it loses its way, will be able to lift itself up and set out again on the right path. In this sense it has been said with profound insight that ‘beauty will save the world.’”
The Gospel tells of Jesus asking us to let shine whatever light we have. I think there are many ways of doing it. God crafted the gift of light — this channel of beauty — in as many ways as there are people who seek beauty and, when finding it, let it shine.
Peter Seeger, a true American troubadour, passed away a few days ago. His spent his life singing in the hope of raising consciousness for the betterment of the world. From his pen and banjo flowed songs like, “If I Had a Hammer,” “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and “Where Have all the Flowers Gone.”
Through the years, Seeger remained optimistic. “The key to the future of the world,” he said in 1994, “is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.”
He found his stories and sang them. And he invited everyone to join in.
Everyone has a light. Everyone has his or her own way of sharing the beauty that is God. It may be with a smile, or a pen, or an open heart, or a banjo. The song is the same. The living instruments, always unique.
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Highway 212 SW, Conyers. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.