Nature, Nostalgia and Art

Pope Benedict XVI has two recent statements with some interesting connections to the environment. On last week’s catechesis the Pope developed further the “via pulchritudinis” or the “way of beauty” as one of the “channels that can lead us to God and also be helpful in our encounter with Him: It is the way of artistic expression”. While in a previous catechesis the Pope focused on the encounter of nature as one way of living this Way, this time the focus was on human expressions of art. Here some of the highlight:

  • A work of art is the fruit of the creative capacity of the human person who stands in wonder before the visible reality, who seeks to discover the depths of its meaning and to communicate it through the language of forms, colors and sounds. Art is capable of expressing, and of making visible, man’s need to go beyond what he sees; it reveals his thirst and his search for the infinite. Indeed, it is like a door opened to the infinite, [opened] to a beauty and a truth beyond the every day. And a work of art can open the eyes of the mind and heart, urging us upward.
  • Dear friends, I invite you to rediscover the importance of this way for prayer,…– the ray of beauty that strikes us, that “wounds” us in the intimate recesses of our heart and invites us to ascend to God.
  • Let us hope that the Lord will help us to contemplate His beauty, both in nature as well as in works of art, so that we might be touched by the light of His face, and so also be light for our neighbor. 

On this last point, an interesting reflection develops between the ability to encounter nature and to encounter a work of art. I have spoken here about this before. There is a powerful analogy between art and nature. In nature, we can as in art, encounter the artifice or artist, who in the case of nature, is God himself. This is how nature, and art inspired by God, “opens the doors to infinity”.

In a message delivered yesterday, the Pope was speaking about ecumenism and made a quick diagnose of our times, which is interesting:

In reality, we are witnessing in the contemporary world contradictory phenomena: On one hand there is a generalized distraction and also an insensitivity in regard to transcendence; on the other, there are numerous signs that attest to an ongoing profound nostalgia for God in many hearts, which manifests itself in many different ways and which brings many men and women to an attitude of sincere searching.

Here I think it is important to highlight the Pope’s repeated use of the term “nostalgia” to express the modern, and forever present too, experience of the human longing for God. This is a incredibly rich expression, which I have taken from Pope Benedict XVI and Luis Fernando Figari, to speak about the relationship between the environment and reconciliation (see the video). “Nostalgia for infinity” is the title of Luis Fernando Figari’s book on the human longing for God, read here online, and a constant theme expressed in Sodalit spirituality, such as in the work of artist Javier Rodriguez. 

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