beauty contemplation

Recollect thyself

9:48:00 AMChase J. Cloutier

At times I find my thoughts flying from one thing to the next. I need to buy more groceries; my next project at work is due Tuesday; I liked that song I heard on the radio; I wonder what I’ll have for dinner… We tend to consider it normal that we are almost continuously distracted. And at the end of the day, we wonder why no object seems to hold our fascination or satisfy our interest. Even the most exciting things only hold our attention momentarily.

Have you ever felt the need to collect yourself? Whenever one feels aloof or dispersed, as it were, there is a need to recollect oneself. Withdrawing from the periphery, we look for something truly deep -- the valuable, the truly important. When we are recollected, a certain blurriness and fog is cleared and that which is before us comes into focus. We are present to it and it is present to us.

A view of Paris from the Louvre
When I studied abroad this past spring, I had the chance to see some magnificently beautiful works of art. Paintings, sculptures, architecture -- you name it. In some instances, a particularly powerful work of art would jump out and strike me. It would pull me into its sphere of influence and call forth wonder from my heart. But it would also present to me a challenge. There was a hidden meaning or treasure that required my full attention. The more fully recollected I was, the more fully I could appreciate the beauty before me.

In a chapter on "Recollection and Contemplation", von Hildebrand speaks of the necessity of a focused attention in coming to encounter objects in the world around us. "Recollection is a condition of all truly wakeful and deep modes of living..." (1) When we open ourselves to that which is essential, we move beyond the merely superficial. We enter into a fully awakened state. Too often we remain asleep to the marvels that surround us in our everyday life. We may even fail to acknowledge those people we meet in their full significance as persons. There is so much more to the human person than something to catch our fancy or stave off boredom. In every human person there is a whole world of experience, the inner life of a unique subject who demands reverence. And this kind of reverence requires recollection. But how can we be fully recollected?

In order to be truly recollected, one must make room for silence. In the moment of solitude, away from all the busyness of the day, things begin to fall in place. The proper order of things in their importance becomes clear. Also, in recollection I enter into a sort of rest. The tension of focusing on the object in contemplation involves a relaxation from other concerns. Set free from worry about the passing moment, I can now dwell within myself in true simplicity. I realize who I am and I come to possess myself. It is on this basis that I can give myself in contemplation.
In contemplation I allow the true meaning and the full depth of the object to unfold before me. I realize the full import of this object. And in opening up to the object, my own being is actualized in its depths. The object might be a beautiful work of art, the excellence of the virtue of charity, or the glory of another human soul. And, ultimately, von Hildebrand will say that it is the contemplation of God alone which has the potential to bring one’s entire life into a unity. The light of God can illumine every aspect of our lives.
Emerge from the superficial and immerse in the meaningful.

There is a great need in our society for a renewed presence of mind. We have lost our touch with the world around us and the persons in it. So, I say to you: Recollect thyselfEmerge from the superficial and immerse in the meaningful. Encounter each unrepeatable person you meet. Experience the depths of beauty in everyday life. Allow the full grandeur of being to be impressed upon you. Awake, o sleeper! Come to life again with newly opened eyes.


1. "Recollection and Contemplation" in Transformation in Christ (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001) 105. Photo by Chase J. Cloutier.

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