Music Within

Many of us are extremely sensitive to the beauty of music. I can recall listening to certain pieces of music with so much joy that I’d think: I could die happily if this were played for me on my death bed! “Sensitive” doesn’t quite cover that!

People who are visually attuned have the same feeling when they experience the uncountable beauties, sounds and fragrances of nature: the moonlit sky, sunrises, flowers, waterfalls.

So I was surprised and delighted when my spiritual director told me that such moments of – well really, ecstasy – draw us into a prayer that is truly spiritual and that offers us an experience of God and of heaven.

The composer Franz Schubert understood and expressed this when he set his friend’s poem to one of his loveliest songs, “To Music” (An die Musik).

Oh sacred Art, … you have transported me into a better world!”

Such soul-deep experiences of beauty, approached through our senses, become deep experiences of God-in-us and of God-in-the-world.

Going even beyond this, St. Augustine ecstatically wrote of God’s Beauty that surpassed his senses, reaching into his very soul, not through any of his senses, but directly into the depths of his spirit:

You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. 
You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance on me;
I drew in breath and now I pant for you.
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

This dazzling perception surpassed any knowledge provided by his bodily senses. There was no material sight, sound, fragrance, or touch that Augustine perceived, but only the overwhelming spiritual vision of God’s Beauty. For there is a palpable sense of Beauty in just thinking of God without seeing or hearing any outside stimulus.

If we are not yet ready for Augustine’s mystical revelation, we must nevertheless take time to appreciate the beauty accessible through our senses, for these are the stepping stones that lead us to the inmost temple of our soul where God is found. 

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Take a moment to listen to a beautiful rendition of An die Musik by the late Arleen Auger.

All Things Work Together

. . . for those who love God.


“I worry so about my past life and how many bad judgments I’ve made,” said the young woman sitting in front of me.

     “You know,” I said, “I used to have as neighbor a woman who was very creative in the domestic arts: painting, crafts, needlework. One item she showed me made a lasting impression. She had made a full-size quilt that featured a variety of cloths and designs, each related to an important event in her life. She had a piece from one of the children’s “blankie;” jeans she wore on her first date with her husband, and part of a shirt left in the laundry by her son who had just run away from home.

mixed quilt     “From all these remnants commemorating both happy and catastrophic events, she had made a work of art. Bound together by solid dark blue strips framing each square, she had created a kind of book of her life. It was beautiful! And besides, it served a very useful purpose in her home.”

This is what St. Paul means in his letter to the Romans (8:18): For those who love God, all things work together unto good. To that marvelous statement, St. Augustine added the words … even sin. All events, all actions, thoughts, omissions, whether joyful or sad, whether “productive” or empty – all are, in God’s hands, the stuff of our life, all put to use to ultimately shape us into the image that God has of us.

For there is nothing in our life that God cannot put to good use. Our profound and loving Teacher uses even our “mistakes,” not as stern lectures directed at us, but as gentle reminders of his mercy, as sturdy lengths of thread that draw us to him, binding us to himself into one work of art.

St. Benedict

Like us, Benedict needed to search and try out different ways of serving God.

Mt Saviour Sculpture
Wood sculpture at Mt. Saviour Monastery, Pine City, NY

I enjoyed hearing about St. Benedict in the homily given on his feast day, July 11.

Like us, Benedict needed to search and try out different ways of serving God. That he would be known as the Father of western monasticism – which he’s noted for – did not come to him in a single great flash of insight or experience.

No. First, he was an “ordinary” Christian like us, going to Mass, reading and pondering Scripture. Because he lived in a somewhat degenerate Rome, he soon realized that living as a hermit would allow him to make a greater space within, a quiet space for the Spirit to fill. He therefore withdrew to a cave near the town of Subiaco, mentored by a monk by the name of Romanus.

He must have lived an exemplary life, for soon a group of monks appealed to him to be their spiritual leader, according to the biography written by St. Gregory the Great. But life lived by the Gospel and as taught by Benedict turned out not to be to their liking, and they planned to get rid of him by poisoning his wine. As Benedict blessed the carafe, it suddenly shattered, saving Benedict’s life, and saving the irritable brothers from grave sin.

For more reading on Benedict, his Rule, and the proliferation of priests, religious and laity dedicated to his teachings, see the following:

  • The Order of St. Benedict
  • Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict, by Esther de Waal
  • Strangers to the City, by Michael Casey, OCSO