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NOTIONS AND RUMINATIONS In Thanksgiving, be thankful for the beauty you experience in life; for finding it in the little things

      In recent months, I have returned to my first intellectual love: literature, especially poetry. Not since I was an English major at Indiana University 46 years ago have I delved so deeply into Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Keats and Coleridge.

      I read their poems aloud, and I once again savor the beauty of alliteration, meter, metaphor and simile. I delight in the pure sound of the words, their euphony. Wordsworth’s “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” is a treat to read; Shelley’s “A Defense of Poetry,” a manifesto, if ever there was one, is thrilling.

      This past week the faculty at the school where I teach was invited to attend a short ballet recital by the first year ballet students. The recital was performed during a class period I did not teach, so I decided to attend.

      Many of my students danced in this recital, and my motive in attending was simply to make an appearance in support of the students’ efforts. I was the only faculty member there. So I’m sitting there in the dance studio and the troupe of about 30 girls and one boy begin dancing.

      Since I was right there on the floor with them, they were so close to me when they danced, I was able to see their facial expressions, hear their breathing, and, if I were to have stretched out my hand, I could have touched them. As I watched these students leap, pirouette and twirl, I was awed by the beauty of line and grace of movement. When the recital was finished I applauded, and the troupe beamed and thanked me for coming.

      What does literature and ballet have to do with anything? Well, this: beauty.

      I suggest that prayer is more akin to poetry and ballet than anything else. In prayer we lift up our hearts and souls to God, and we express to God our deepest longings and love and fears and desires and hopes and dreams. And, we do so in words or groaning’s or tears or pleas that echo a poem. This poem of prayer can be so deeply uttered that it wracks our bodies into contortions that make us feel as though we are twirling or leaping or even collapsing.

      Beauty abounds. All we have to do is open ourselves up to it. And when we do we see beauty, we see the author of all beauty: God.

      Beauty can be grandiose, but more often than not, beauty is in the miniature. But it is there; open your eyes; seek it out.

      I walked back to my classroom after that little recital with moist eyes. I have no idea if their dancing met technical ballet standards, but I was stunned nevertheless. What I remembered walking down that hallway was the gleam in the eyes of 16-year olds as they leaped by me, the delight registered on their face, their hair flying out behind them.

      But as I walked down that hallway back to my classroom, I also walked down the hallway where the English classrooms are located. The doors of two of those classroom were open, and as I passed by, I heard students reading Shakespeare aloud. This is what I heard:

      Juliet: “What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?”

      Romeo: “The exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine.”

      Juliet: “I gave thee mine before thou didst request it; and yet, I would it were to give again.”

      The beauty of God is given to us again and again. That beauty invigorates us as does youthful love. That beauty is satisfying, but begs for more. Be watchful for it. And remember this: beauty will attract someone to the faith more than proof.

      At the end of this month we will celebrate Thanksgiving. As you sit down to that meal, be thankful for the beauty you experience in your life. Be thankful for finding it in the little things. And as you share that meal with loved ones, perhaps you might recall St. Thérèse of Lisieux:

      “The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent, nor the daisy of its simple charm. I realized that if every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness and there would be no wild flowers to make the meadows gay.”

      Flowers. Scent. Color. Charm.


      Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .





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