A Book on Beauty

by Melannie Svoboda SND on February 10, 2020

As some of you know, I am working on a new book. Basically it’s on beauty and the spiritual life. It’s only about half written—and my deadline is April 1. So, I ask your prayers that the Holy Spirit may perch upon my shoulder and direct my thoughts and words!

Today I would like to share an excerpt from my book with you. This is from the chapter tentatively entitled “What Effect Does Beauty Have on Us?” It begins with this quote: To call something beautiful is not just to describe it, but to react to it. (Gordon Graham)

Two old friends were walking down the road one evening when they began to argue. As they went along they shouted at one another as each tried to impose his view upon the other. The longer they argued, the angrier they became. Suddenly, one of them caught sight of the setting sun. He pointed it out to his friend. Immediately the men ceased their arguing.

They stood side by side in silence, gazing at the wonder and beauty of the sunset. Several minutes later, when the sun had slipped beneath the horizon, the two friends started on their way again. Only now, having forgotten what they had been arguing about, they walked together cheerfully and at peace with one another.

Beauty affects us. It causes a reaction in us. In this case the beauty of the sunset made the men stop walking. It silenced them. It engaged them. And in the end, it brought peace between them.

[I then discuss beauty’s effect on the human brain and our psychological well-being. I give examples of beauty’s power to slow us down.]

Beauty’s power to lure people from their ordinary tasks is demonstrated every time there is a solar eclipse. When this phenomenon occurs, millions of people leave work, gather in public places, and don special glasses to take in the mystery and beauty of such an event. A harvest moon will likewise entice people out of their cozy homes to get a better look at the giant orangish orb. The sighting of an eagle or a blue heron also tempts people to stop and stare. A good question to ask ourselves is this: What kind of beauty do we pause for?

Studies have also shown that beauty can lift our spirits and ease our stress. A visit to the art museum, attendance at a concert, a stroll along a beach, the taste of a favorite meal, the face of a happy child, or the sight of a mother duck swimming with her brood of ducklings–all have a way of lifting our hearts and calming our spirits.

Beauty can also unite us with other people. We feel at one whether we are watching the bursting of fireworks on the Fourth of July, cheering for our favorite sports’ team, gazing up at the launching of a rocket, or singing our favorite carols at Christmas Mass. Yes, beauty has the power to unite us as few other things can.

[I then describe how beauty can be a pathway to God. I include some reflective questions and conclude with a prayer and a suggested video.]

How have you felt the power of beauty in your life?

What kind of beauty do you pause for?

Have you ever experienced beauty uniting you with other people?

PS: Here are a few of the places I will be giving talks or retreats. I’ll be posting these on my events calendar soon. You can check out the websites for details:

April 3, 2020 – Speaker at the Lorain First Friday Club luncheon, “Hanging onto Hope in Our Imperfect World”; Lorain Community College, 11:30-1:00.

June 20-26, 2020 – Retreat at St. Cyril Spiritual Center, Danville, PA: “How Can I Keep from Singing?”

July 13-20, 2020 – Retreat at King’s House Retreat Center, Belleville, IL: “How Can I Keep from Singing?”

August 7-9, 2020 – Weekend retreat at Christ the King Retreat Center, Buffalo, MN: “Wonder, Love, Courage, and Hope.”

September 11-13, 2020 – Weekend retreat at Benet House at St. Mary Monastery, Rock Island, IL: “Four gifts of Autumn: Beauty, Letting Go, Harvest, and Hope.”

October 2-5, 2020 – Weekend retreat at Mount St. Joseph Conference & Retreat Center, Maple Mount, KY: “Holding onto Hope.”

December 11-13, 2020 – Weekend Advent retreat, St. Francis Renewal Center, Bethlehem, PA.

Our video is entitled “For the Beauty of the Earth” with lyrics by John Rutter and performed by the St. Phillips’ Boys’ Choir.

Please feel free to respond to this reflection below:

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Carol February 10, 2020 at 4:31 am

Good morning!
I found your weekly reflection apropos for Valentines Day this Friday. In my experience, beauty is often disguised and/or distorted by commercialization thus leaving me with a superficial & limited view. If only we could disconnect from all the hubbub and noise that robs us of taking in beauty. I liked your question about seeking out God’s s plan for how to draw attention to the kind of beauty that moves us. This week I pray that we can spend time each day to commune with nature& just BE!

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Ed Johnson February 10, 2020 at 5:19 am

Hello, Sister,
As I ponder your thoughts this morning, I am led to feel there is probably much everyday beauty in my life that I tend to miss (take for granted?); the trees and flowers I see while walking or driving; a baby in a stroller; kids playing hopscotch; old couple holding hands; bees buzzing around flowers, etc. Then there are those WOW moments of beauty that are real grabbers (often on a trip, it seems?) that cause me to OBSERVE the moment…..to pause in a prayer of Thanksgiving. I think I shall work to focus on the everyday beauty I may be missing all around me; to stop, ponder, and pray in Thanksgiving for them. Thank you, Sister. Surely your newest book will be most beautiful. Peace and Blessings to All.
Ed J.

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Mary Anne February 10, 2020 at 6:48 am

Dear Sister,
I look forward to reading your book and send prayers that you are inspired to meet your deadline.
I have long recognized that it is in the beauty of nature that I most keenly feel the presence of God. I am currently living the life of a snowbird and have the opportunity each day to enjoy long walks along the beach, plants and flowers that are in bloom, birds and fish that are not part of my normal landscape.
I am filled with gratitude for the moments of peace and wonder I can experience here.

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John Hopkins February 10, 2020 at 7:21 am

Good morning Sister Melannie,
Good morning, all…

Thank you for all of this! Prayers that you meet that deadline (such a distressing word!), and prayers that its publication produces the desired effect, i.e., helping us to see the beautiful! Something — especially these days — we must be mindful of.

Again, thank you!

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John Hopkins February 10, 2020 at 7:23 am

“to stop, ponder, and pray,” wise words, Ed.

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Pete February 10, 2020 at 8:03 am

While walking the Appalachian Trail I was fortunate to experience the beauty of the earth and skies many times. Meeting like kind of people along the way was another kind of beauty. Just last night , driving home from the west coast of Florida, we had to pull over to the side of the road to enjoy the largesse of the full moon rising over the horizon. Beautiful! God’s gift! Thanks.

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Sharon February 10, 2020 at 8:05 am

As disparaging as snow can be to many of us, this past November we got an early snowstorm. The snow was wet and heavy and stuck to the tree branches and limbs like glue. To me and hopefully to others this was beautiful. Made one forget that we still had the job of cleaning the stuff off our walks and driveways.

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Dolores Leffler February 10, 2020 at 8:16 am

I pause each time I see deer wandering in my backyard or along the way when I am driving somewhere…never seem to tire of seeing them. I always thank God each time I see a rising sun or a beautiful night time sky.
Thank you for your reminder of beauty in our world.

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Shirley February 10, 2020 at 8:19 am

We are in Key West visiting now and we are experiencing God’s beauty of the ocean and beautiful sunsets. Such an amazing place. We will visit the Southern most place in the USA today, only 90 miles from Cuba. We are touring on our Harley. So all the way down has been amazing seeing all the different birds. God’s beauty is amazing. Thank you Sister Melannie for this blog! Have a great week!

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Jean Canatsey February 10, 2020 at 3:10 pm

I remember the first sunset we viewed from Mallory Square. There is nothing to compare to sunsets off Key West! Enjoy!

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Betty Donoghue February 10, 2020 at 9:15 am

Thank you, Sister…your wors & reflections are always meaningful. Here is another quote about beauty by Helen Keller:”The best most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched…they must be felt with the heart”. Peace!

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Mary James Kelly February 10, 2020 at 9:37 am

Living now in the ND V apartments, I’m
struck by the beauty of aging couples and their
devoted care and love for each other. Especially
Pat and Jack. Jack is dying of cancer and Pat
so faithfully stays at his side. He is so happy
that she will have support and love here after he dies. They will renew their marriage vows this Thursday at the hospital, celebrating 63
years of fidelity. The care partners in the Assisted Living section are also a thing of beauty for their cheerful tender care.

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Francis Sheridan February 10, 2020 at 9:46 am

Thanks Sister Melanie!

Needed the pick-up this morning. Hope you are happy and well.

FX

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Thomas DeFreitas February 10, 2020 at 9:51 am

Beauty is all around us. Even in the city, or in my suburb near to the city. Heavens, the people one sees! The unexpected smiles one receives (and if one remembers, gives back!). There’s beauty in music, in silence. In solitude, in community. In summer, in winter. And so on.

Sister, I was wondering: Does your book mention Dante Alighieri at all? His admiration of Beatrice produced so much immortal poetry, most especially La Vita Nuova, which is positively luminous in D. G. Rossetti’s translation.

I hope, too, that as our society becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, we as individuals and as a society are opening ourselves to broader conceptions of beauty than those which have reigned supreme throughout most of our history. And also, the beauty of soul, of mind, of wit, and often of appearance in those among us who have some silver streaks in the ol’ hairdo … this should not be neglected!

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Teresa Skierkowski, SCC February 10, 2020 at 10:11 am

I love your writings…prose and poetry in so many books. Looking forward to your book on beauty as you share this morning! Indeed, beauty does heal the human soul if we take the time to ponder and savor it in creation and in each other. My prayers are with you as you face your April deadline.
Teresa

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mary ann flannery February 10, 2020 at 10:19 am

Hi Melanie: I live in constant admiration of beauty. Even yesterday, while driving to Cincinnati from Cleveland, I encountered a blizzard in mid-Ohio which lasted only a short time but was breathtaking and made all drivers slow down and take caution. We respected the power of nature and I was enchanted by the beauty. Thank you for your inspiring thoughts. Good luck with the book…

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Suzanne February 10, 2020 at 10:48 am

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote ” When we are capable of stopping we begin to see. ” After reading your reflection this morning, Melannie, it is a reminder to pause to see the beauty that surrounds us each day. Look forward to your new book on beauty.

Blessings that the Holy Spirit remains perched on your shoulder to inspire you!

Suzanne

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Carol February 10, 2020 at 10:59 am

Good morning Melannie and all,
Reading your words and hearing the lovely song,
moves me in awe at the beauty of a world of white
after a huge snowfall this weekend. The sun shining
on this white blanket lifts my heart in praise
and thanks to our loving God. Blessings!

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Linda Blincow February 10, 2020 at 10:56 am

Hi Sister Melannie,

I was wondering, do you ever get out West for a conference or a retreat? I live in Northern Colorado.
Thank you for your Monday reflection; I really enjoy your fun and creative writing and thoughts.

Peace
Linda

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Josita DiVita February 10, 2020 at 10:59 am

Dear Melannie,
Thank you for this reflection on beauty and the lovely song.
Since I made the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius I am more conscious of the beauty of God in all things…I look forward to your new book…praying you make your deadline.
Prayers also for your very busy retreat schedule…hope you will come to the NY/ NJ again soon. Was so nice meeting you at the Upper Room Spirituality Day at Georgian Ct. in NJ. A few years ago.
God bless you. Josita

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Maureen Spillanbe Spillanbe SND February 10, 2020 at 11:34 am

Melannie I am praying for you that you meet your deadline and are inspired.
Loved today’s reflection on beauty. Thank you 🙂

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Beverly February 10, 2020 at 1:03 pm

Oh, beauty! it is all around us!
The sight of your grandchild running at you with arms open wide and the squeal of your name on his lips…what beauty!
The sight of something different in the garden, only to go out & see the first rose bud of the season…what beauty!
A mother raccoon and her two little ones anxiously partaking of the cat food before scurrying up a tree…what beauty!
The beautiful paintings by God across the sky at dawn and dusk…what beauty!
A couple hand in hand walking in the park..no words from their mouths, just a sense of peace in their existence…what beauty!
Walking on the Camino for 16 miles over rocky, slippery river beds, running out of hope that you will reach the next town, and you go around the final corner and there…there in the distance is the town…what beauty!
Jesus being held up at Mass and the priest says, “Behold the Lamb of God”…what beauty!
Thank you, Lord, for all the beauty you provide to me daily!

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Julie Grote February 10, 2020 at 1:28 pm

Thanks so much for the gorgeous pictures. We are so blessed to have such resources to lead us to God. I will pray for you to have inspiration to work on your new book. I have two of your earlier books which we used in a group to share our reflections on the chapters, guided by your excellent questions. With prayer.

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Patt Germann February 10, 2020 at 2:07 pm

Sometimes the beauty around me absolutely stops me in my tracks and I almost can’t breathe. I don’t know how to describe the feeling but I suspect others experience similar kinds of reactions. I just want to STOP time and BE in that place. Thank you for all the images, many of which are what I call beautiful. It’s overwhelming to me sometimes the perfection with which God creates the simple stuff — a rose, so perfect in shape and color; a child so wonderful and huggable; the clouds. And to think HE holds everything in being and knows exactly that that particular cloud would be appreciated by me in that moment in time. And then there’s the big stuff — I think I could go on and on. This was a wonderful,meditative writing. Will look for your book – and pray for your completion of such! Blessings….

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Annie February 10, 2020 at 2:58 pm

Thank you for all the ways you show us beauty in everyday things! That is truly one of your gifts. The John Rutter piece is my favorite version of “For the Beauty of the Earth.” The pictures with that video are perfect.
Praying for you, for your book and the deadline too!

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Jean Canatsey February 10, 2020 at 3:34 pm

Good morning, Sr. Melannie!
Thank you for the beautiful reflection on beauty. A full harvest moon…..sunrise or sunset over the ocean…..the first snowfall of winter…..our dogs and cat sleeping together in the sun….gazing out the window behind the altar of the San Pedro Retreat Center chapel…..watching a launch from our front yard…..a shooting star…..these things and many more literally stop me in my tracks. God is good…..all the time.
I’m looking forward to your new book. We will definitely be praying that you are able to meet your deadline.

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Rita Rings February 10, 2020 at 5:16 pm

Hello,

A prayer of thanks to God for this blog and the heightened awareness of beauty today. Have you ever been struck by the beauty in the fall of the airborne seeds of dandelions. Can you just imagine Our Creator providing these seeds with their own beautiful method of taking flight. GLORY TO GOD!
Looking forward to the BEAUTY FULL Book!

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Sunnie Poplar February 10, 2020 at 6:30 pm

Sister:
Really! Your deadline is April Fools Day? I had to laugh. Maybe your publisher is playing games with you.
Loved your reflections today……..as always.
Peace, blessings, and beauty to you.
Sunnie Poplar

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Nancy February 10, 2020 at 9:07 pm

I enjoy all of your books. They draw me into being mindful of what you share with your readers. There are many things that call us to slow down and enjoy. This sharing does that for me. Thank you. Blessings

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Kim February 11, 2020 at 8:42 am

As I think of the beauty in my life, people who are kind and cheery all the time come to mind. My friend Connie will bring joy to my life whenever I talk with her. Thanks for your reflections and prayers for inspiration from the Holy Spirit

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Gloria Denos February 11, 2020 at 2:26 pm

Hi Sr. Melannie,

I love the focus of this book…..we should collaborate sometime ~ I’ll provide the photography, you the words of wisdom!!!

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Jean February 11, 2020 at 3:06 pm

Thank you Sister Melannie,
I know you will finish by your deadline!!
This video was just beautiful in lyrics, music and scenes.
Working in Glacier National Park for during college summers………… wow. I knew the beauty of the plains but those years and experiences taught me there is yet another Happy Place for me.
Have a blessed week and Thank you for the many ways you begin my week.

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Karen February 12, 2020 at 12:27 pm

Last month my husband and I drove cross country from Ohio to Arizona. On the third and last day of the trip, we got on the road early as usual and were able to witness a full moon setting over the Flagstaff mountains in the west, as the sun rose behind us in the east. It was truly awe-inspiring beauty.
I wish you continued inspiration as you labor to complete your book.

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Bonnie Brunton February 29, 2020 at 11:13 pm

You are a new gift to me.I was reading from
Living With Christ p. 23 and visited your blog.
Thank you!
Today I was walking in a wooded area in the North West. The bright green
Moss caught me eye enough to stop walking and linger next to it. The beauty of Nature,I felt blessed and continued my walk. Suddenly I felt a poem to mind. An unexpected expression of greatful ness.

Ps your name intrigued me. In the mid 1980’s there was a Marie Svoboda
Who was gifted in sharing ways to be with people as they die.Her wisdom inspired me! Are you a relative?

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Melannie Svoboda SND March 1, 2020 at 9:05 am

Bonnie, Welcome to “Sunflower Seeds”! And thank you for sharing your walk with us. You asked about my last name. Svoboda is a very common Czech name, so there are quite a few of us in this country. I doubt that Marie is a close relative. Thanks again for writing! Sr. Melannie

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Melanie M Manning March 23, 2020 at 3:21 pm

I believe beauty begins upon arising: I thank God for that special moment when I open my eyes to see the room around me. Then, each of us has beauty from that what we see, hear, eat and are: we are a composite of all around us. Whatever the day smile, laugh and be what you think you are not: we ARE in and of ourselves. Blessings for your day.

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