“Beauty, Blessedness, Belovedness”
“They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.”
There must be infinite, ever-ascending stages of high Life Energy and many names we could use for The Feeling, for God, for Belovedness. One very high stage in particular I have delineated is that of Beauty—to be able to look at anything, even a blank wall, and feel deeply in your heart, to know at the very core of your existence, that it is Beautiful. The word “beauty,” like love, has been grossly debased, for in its etymology lies the ever present truth of its deep meaning. It comes from the Latin beatus, which the American Heritage Dictionary defines as “supreme blessedness.”
John Ruskin was well aware of this and distinguished between two types of beauty, aesthesis and theoria:
“The term “aesthesis” properly signifies the mere sensual perception of the outward qualities and necessary effects of bodies. . . . But I wholly deny that the impressions of beauty are in any way sensual,—they are neither sensual nor intellectual, but moral, and for the faculty receiving them, . . . no term can be more accurate . . . than that employed by the Greeks, “theoretic,” which I pray permission, therefore, always to use and to call the operation of the faculty itself, Theoria.
. . . The mere animal consciousness of the pleasantness, I call aesthesis,” but the exulting, reverent, and grateful perception of it I call theoria.”
So, there is aesthesis, which is just how things appear, how they strike you sensually or intellectually, such as when we stand in front of a painting or photograph and say “it is beautiful.” By contrast, theoria is something far deeper, when we feel blessed by the experience. When there is exulting, reverent, and grateful perception of beauty, then it is theoria, true Beauty with a capital “B.”
The fascinating thing is the etymology of “beauty” is the same as for “beatitude,” “beatify.” So, beauty, which is blessedness, is when you feel blessed by the object. If I feel blessed by an object, for example, a piano, then I will believe that it is Beautiful. So, if you can feel blessedness bestowed on you by the thusness which is the piano, or a telephone, or a blank wall, or whatever it may be, or the void itself, then you will say it is Beautiful—declare deep down that it’s Beautiful. So, we are talking about through art, for instance photography, helping people to feel blessed, to feel beloved, by seeing that it is “Beautiful,” with a capital “B.”
At the end of my daily meditation just before I open my eyes, I have a little affirmation: Beauty, Blessedness, Belovedness. And as I was photographing recently I had some lines of Robert Bridges come to me. One was, “My eyes for beauty pine.” My eyes for Blessedness pine. My eyes for Belovedness pine.
I am looking “out there” trying to find love, trying to look at something and feel Beloved. That’s what it means, “My eyes for beauty pine.” Another one is, “I love all beauteous things.” Two wonderful poems by Robert Bridges. Beauteous means that I feel loved by them. I love all beauteous things because I am loved by all beauteous things.
And as with all art, in this instance photography, we are looking at how to find the Beauty, how to find the Blessedness, how to find the Belovedness.
Why are some sights and sounds, experiences, thought to be more beautiful? Why a sunset and not a telephone? And why this sunset more than that one? A sunset has no sense of beauty as such, it is what you put onto it, that aspect of your mother that you project.
Certain perceptions for some reason act as releasers, triggering off or activating some deeply held imprint of some aspect of the mother. In the same way, perhaps a beautiful smile activates the feeling of love, the imprint of the feeling of love when you gazed up at the glory of your mother’s beaming face as she held you.
Great art, whatever the medium, most activates these releases, most helps us to put the feelings of love from our mothers onto them, they facilitate our projection of her love. But so should everything, and every person, and every experience. So it is that the Saint finds Beauty, Blessedness, Belovedness in everything, even the jangling telephone, even disease, even death.
Now, if we were enlightened enough, we’d see it everywhere. Whatever we are looking at, we should see it, everywhere. But we don’t. We need to have it abstracted and presented to us in a way that we can then say, ah hah! I see it! That is Beautiful.
But we should see everything as Beautiful; therefore, we should feel Beloved by everything. And the aim of all art, including photography, is to make the Beauty, the Belovedness, so obvious through the particular choice of subject and delivery, as it were, that ah! we find it there. That is obviously Beautiful! And then to extrapolate and find it elsewhere—everywhere.
The art critic Anton Ehrenzwerg wrote that, “It can be stated as a general psychological law that any creative search involves holding before the inner eye a multitude of possible choices that totally defeat CONSCIOUS comprehension.”
That is exactly how I regard taking a photograph. Beauty, Beauty everywhere!—but I am overwhelmed. So I frame the image in the viewfinder to contain, encapsulate, what seems to me to be the very epitome of the Beauty everywhere manifest.
The brain with its judgments, cannot take us to Belovedness, to blessedness. It is not the path to Enlightenment. But properly employed, photography, like all the high creative arts, can bypass reason and take us on to Beauty, Blessedness, Belovedness, and Beyond. Of course, it can be done with any activity, but photography does seem to be the easiest to begin with.
Most Beautiful Picture Taken
I am often asked what I think is the most beautiful picture I have ever taken. Without hesitation, I believe that would be the picture I took when I was about sixteen with an old folding camera that used 122 film. Long, long discontinued, it produced large postcard-sized pictures.
It was a photograph of my mother preparing to go to a ball. She was wearing a black strapless evening gown and sitting at her boudoir table in a corner of my parents’ bedroom, putting on her makeup. There were two large mirrors set at right angles to each other. She seemed bathed in light by them, glowing and very, very beautiful. But there was something that attracted me even more than her face, and that was the overhead lamp, which was reflected in the mirrors. It seemed to rest on the top of her head, as a halo. And, of course, she was smiling—at me.
So, I took this postcard of my mother, which I still have, and it is still, I think, the highest energy photograph I’ve ever taken, because she just looked like the God that I’d like God to be.
 John Ruskin, Modern Painters Part III: Of Ideas of Beauty (New York: John Wiley, 1869), pp. 11, 15.
 Quoted in John Russell, Francis Bacon (London: Thames & Hudson, 1993), p. 22.
Excerpted from Beyond the Obvious: Photography for Healing.