Eat, Pray, Love & Embracing the Beautiful

The excerpt below is from Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love,” which was recently made into a film starring Julia Roberts. 

I haven’t read the book, but someone showed me this passage, and I must say I was strongly impressed by it. 

I’m sure there are many “religious despisers of beauty,” as I have called them, who would take strong exception to Gilbert’s passage.  And I can see  how what she’s saying can be twisted into an easily dismissed preference for superficial pleasure over earnest piety. 

 

But Beauty, after all, is one of the names of God, and if the reader factors that in, though Gilbert herself may not, then I think the passage makes sense. 

Christians have long considered the search for truth and for moral goodness as roads to God.  Truth and goodness are reliable indicators, so to speak, of God’s presence.  Beauty, however, is treated as the wayward transcendental, the one most likely to lead us astray

The misunderstanding here is easy to point out: Individual judgments about what is true and what is good can be wrong, can mislead those who make them, just like judgments about what is beautiful.

I think the reason most people do not recognize that all three transcendentals can mislead is due to the unique relationship of beauty to pleasure, as Gilbert points out.  It’s precisely the pleasure aspect that makes people nervous, while it’s the pleasure aspect that Gilbert rightfully claims as part of our human fulfillment. 

“Luigi Barzini, in his l964 masterwork The Italians tried to set the record straight on his own culture. He tried to answer the question of why the Italians have produced the greatest artistic, political, and scientific minds of the ages, but have still never become a major world power. Why are they the planet’s masters of verbal diplomacy, but still so inept at home government? Why are they so individually valiant, yet so collectively unsuccessful as an army? How can they be such shrewd merchants on the personal level, yet such inefficient capitalists as a nation?

His answers to these questions are more complex than I can fairly encapsulate here, but have much to do with a sad Italian history of corruption by local leaders and exploitation by foreign dominators, all of which has generally led Italians to draw the seemingly accurate conclusion that nobody and nothing in this world can be trusted. Because the world is so corrupted, misspoken, unstable, exaggerated and unfair, one should trust only what one can experience with one’s own senses, and this makes the senses stronger in Italy than anywhere in Europe. This is why, Barzini says, Italians will tolerate hideously incompetent generals, presidents, tyrants, professors, bureaucrats, journalists and captains of industry but will never tolerate incompetent “opera singers, conductors, ballerinas, courtesans, actors, film directors, cooks, tailors…” In a world of disorder and disaster and fraud, sometimes only beauty can be trusted. Only artistic excellence is incorruptible. Pleasure cannot be bargained down. And sometimes the meal is the only currency that is real.

To devote yourself to the creation and enjoyment of beauty, then, can be a serious business–not always necessarily a means of escaping reality, but sometimes a means of holding on to the real when everything else is flaking away into…rhetoric and plot.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, pages 114-115, “Eat, Pray, Love”

Deal W. Hudson

By

Deal W. Hudson is ​publisher and editor of The Christian Review and the host of "Church and Culture," a weekly two-hour radio show on the Ave Maria Radio Network.​ Formerly publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine for ten years, his articles and comments have been published widely in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, and U.S. News and World Report. He has also appeared on TV and radio news shows such as the O'Reilly Factor, Hannity & Colmes, NBC News, and All Things Considered on National Public Radio. Hudson worked with Karl Rove in coordinating then-Gov. George W. Bush's outreach to Catholic voters in 2000 and 2004. In October 2003, President Bush appointed him a member of the official delegation from the United States to attend the 25th anniversary celebration of John Paul II's papacy. Hudson, a former professor of philosophy for 15 years, is the editor and author of eight books. He tells the story of his conversion from Southern Baptist to Catholic in An American Conversion (Crossroad, 2003), and his latest, Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States, was published in March 2008. He is married to Theresa Carver Hudson, also a Baptist convert, and they have two children, Hannah and Cyprian who was adopted from Romania in 2001.

Crisis Magazine Comments Policy

This is a Catholic forum. As such:

  1. All comments must directly address the article. “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter.” (Matthew 12:36)
  2. No profanity, ad hominems, hot tempers, or racial or religious invectives. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
  3. We will not tolerate heresy, calumny, or attacks upon our Holy Mother Church or Holy Father. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
  4. Keep it brief. No lengthy rants or block quotes. “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)
  5. If you see a comment that doesn’t meet our standards, please flag it so a moderator may remove it. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” (Galatians 6:1)
  6. All comments may be removed at the moderators’ discretion. “But of that day and hour no one knows…” (Matthew 24:36)
  7. Crisis isn’t responsible for the content of the comments box. Comments do not represent the views of Crisis magazine, its editors, authors, or publishers. “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God… So each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10, 12)
MENU