Beauty is the word with which we shall begin. Beauty is the last word that the thinking intellect dares to speak, because it simply forms a halo, an untouchable crown around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love. — Hans Urs von Balthasar
My daughter wrote a poem a week or so ago. All I can say is, Wow. Yes, sure, that’s because I am her Dad. But really, objectively, it took my breath away because it’s just a remarkably sophisticated poem for a 10th grader. Her creative employment of metaphors, her adept use of rhythm and rhyme, and the depth of meaning outpace her years. She wrote it for school as a reflection on the experience of lying on the ground at night, looking up into the starry skies and bright full moon. She asked me to read it aloud while she sat and listened. As I made my way through it, I delighted in its vivid imagery and sprightly sound. But when I got to those last stanzas, I completely lost it. I drummed on the breakfast table, shouted with joy and made a general fool of myself: “Seriously? Crazy! This is ab-so-lute-ly unreal!”
Here it is:
An Ode To The Sky
This vast ocean I behold,
Formed in a Master’s careful hold,
Is a sea of glowing chandeliers
Blanketing us from the bitter cold
The lights surround their mother so valiant
Firmly standing as a gleaming battalion
I lie here paralyzed, consuming their wonder
Admiring His prized and precious medallion
Doused in tranquility, swallowed by space
Humbled in His atmospheric embrace
For one day I will enter the gallery
Where I will look down upon this place
This idle world of mortal gloom
Shall yet be saved before consumed
Especially in those last two stanzas, she captured exquisitely the Christian vision for the ultimate destiny of both human life and the whole of creation, beyond the veil of death. What hope that death has not the final word! As I read her poem aloud, I was thrust into the presence of a God who “desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4); that long for “this idle world of mortal doom” ti be saved in, with and through us: man made fully alive in Christ (Rom. 8:19). She took all of Christian eschatology [theology of the Last Things] and wrapped it up in a single phrase.
Later on that night, I read it again in the quiet. That last line spoke differently, articulating a new language for me to describe the nature of the Eucharistic Consecration at Mass. I imagined the bread and wine, which are symbols of the whole of creation transformed under the dominion of redeemed humanity, being “saved” under the force of Christ’s self-sacrificing words of Consecration precisely in order to be consumed by the faithful. The holy Eucharist, which is the collapse of the distance between heaven and earth, is also the nexus, the locus of this world’s salvation. In this sense, transubstantiation simply means that what has been offered to God at Mass by the faithful — “your sacrifice and mine” — has been, by the Spirit’s dew fall, saved — “stored up as treasure in heaven” (cf Matt. 19:21 where the “sacrifice” of a life expended for love of God and the poor is “saved”). Those who approach the saving Bread and Chalice to consume become what they receive (cf John 6:51).
My point here?: Maria is what all Christians must become: architects of wonder. I was built up that day, awakened anew in wonder, beneath the nimble art of her pen.
I have always believed that for a teacher there can be no greater joy than watching his student surpass him. The same could be said of a father and his child. Thank you, Maria, for giving me a new language and lifting up my heart with wonder into the gallery of the heavens.
Let me leave you with two quotes that I have long loved and pondered, and which now seem even brighter beneath the light of An Ode to the Sky. The first quote is from Bishop N.T. Wright, the second from Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes #39.
“Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about … The point of the resurrection is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die. What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it. What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”
“For after we have, in the Spirit of the Lord and according to His command, propagated on earth the goods of human dignity, fraternal communion, and liberty — indeed, all those fruits of our nature and industry — we will discover them anew, yet cleansed of all sordidness, illuminated and transfigured, when Christ hands over to the Father an eternal and universal kingdom: “a kingdom of truth and life; a kingdom of sanctity and grace; a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.” On this earth the Kingdom is present already in mystery; but at the Lord’s coming it shall be made consummate.”