By Sister Karen Zielinski, OSF
Beauty is more than what meets the eye.
Last week, the Sylvania Franciscan Motherhouse was brimming with Sisters. They came from Minnesota, Michigan, Louisiana, Mississippi, Indiana and Haiti, to attend the General Assembly, from June 24-26, 2015. Getting together with our Sisters is always a fun and sacred time, and this time was no different.
The Assembly theme, “Shaping the Future of Our Legacy” offered us a chance to pray, reflect on our mission, the Gospel Life and being sisters to all. The days were packed with table conversations, ideas and challenges for the future, and best of all, visiting with each other. We wrote down some great ideas and hopes for the future, but I found myself reflecting on how we, as a Franciscan community, always express ourselves with beauty.
The meeting was energizing in many ways, but it was the beauty that really moved me.
Swaths of draped fabrics and flowers and symbols created a lovely ambiance in our Chapel, and fresh campus pine cones and evergreen boughs adorned our tables as centerpieces. The old adage, “less is more” came through. Music led us in prayer and into different presentations and discussions.
I was reminded of our Founder, Mother Mary Adelaide Sandusky, an artist herself. I believe this spirit, this charism of beauty, rubbed off on all the Sisters in some way. Maybe it is in how a Sister sets the table or arranges furniture in a room at home. Perhaps it is in how a Sister might cook a meal, or write a poem or decorate her office.
We do beauty well. But why do we “do beauty”? What drives us to it? It is deeper and more profound than we might think.
We Sylvania Franciscans have a tradition of beauty. From the Franciscan Mission style architecture, to the oil and water colors, murals, etched glass and original ceramic tiles, to the music, the arrangement of furniture in buildings and the seasonal decorating of the chapels. But the drive to make things beautiful in life has sacred underpinnings.
St. Bonaventure defines justice as “restoring to beauty what has been deformed.” As Sylvania Franciscans, we believe that nature, the arts and culture, and the goodness around us nurture our souls and make us sensitive to the sufferings of our Mother Earth and her peoples. John Schramm once noted that he had difficulty in the mornings deciding whether to save the world or to savor the world. We seek to live that tension, always facing injustice head-on, naming it for what it is and working to end it, but also always attentive to the good, the true and the beautiful around us.”
We do beauty well.
Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, reflects on the profound role beauty plays in our world this way.
“Beauty does not stand alone in the universe, isolated and remote, under glass and precious for its rarity. Beauty is the bridge to justice. It’s the lost beauty of nature that warns us against pollution. It’s the beauty of a child’s face that brings us to see the ugliness of racism. It’s the beauty of life that brings us to rage against the injustice that obstructs it for anyone. Beauty is the glue that holds the world together.
To bring peace, to nurture hope, to wage justice, then, it is necessary to teach beauty or nothing is too valuable to be destroyed. We may well be spending far too much time teaching skills and productivity and efficiency and far too little time on music and art and poetry and flowers and literary appreciation. To raise a child well, we must seed a place in their souls for beauty. To build buildings that do not become ghettos, we must be willing to spend as much time on their beauty as we do on their function. Unless we make beauty the centerpiece of our lives, we are not really living, we are only breathing. If in this millennium we really want justice, we must learn to cultivate beauty.”
Joan Chittister, OSB