Spirit Seeking Light and Beauty
Spirit seeking light and beauty,
Heart that longest for thy rest,
Soul that asketh understanding,
Only thus can ye be blest.
Thro’ the vastness of creation
Tho’ your restless thought may roam,
God is all that you can long for,
God is all his creatures’ home.
Taste and see him, feel and hear him,
Hope and grasp his unseen hand;
Tho’ the darkness seem to hide him,
Faith and love can understand.
God, who lovest all thy creatures,
All our hearts are known to thee;
Lead us thro’ the land of shadows
To thy blest eternity.
— Janet Erskine Stuart, RSCJ,
Sacred Heart sister and educator (1857 – 1914)
When I was in college, my roommate and I would go to daily Mass. One of my favorite hymns during that time was titled, “Spirit Seeking Light and Beauty.” Its haunting melody and words of longing touched a deep place in my heart.
Recently I officiated at a Universalist Unitarian service. I needed to choose the opening music and accompanying hymn but didn’t feel drawn to the suggested ones. Deciding to invite my cellist friend, Sara, to play during the service, I half-heartedly asked her if she knew of this hymn, because I hadn’t heard it since my college days. To my surprise and with just a few clicks, Sara located it on her computer. Reading the words, I was struck by how closely they outlined the trajectory of my spiritual development.
I discovered the tune comes from a Gaelic hymn, which reflected the Irish part of my heritage. The title and first line, “Spirit seeking light and beauty” sums up much of my—and perhaps your—journey. When I explored the levels of consciousness for my doctoral thesis, I discovered that light is a level of consciousness closes to the Divine. My daily meditation of many years includes practices of light. Beauty in nature, art, or music has always been important in my life. I believe it opens the heart. In my early forties, I became a member of the Inayati Sufi Order which affirms that love, harmony and beauty are the closest words to describe the indescribable.
The third line of the first stanza, “Thro’ the vastness of creation tho’ your restless thought may roam.” indicates a fundamental spiritual challenge throughout my life. Yes, my thoughts still roam after many years of meditation. However, I’ve come to realize that wanting them to go away only causes them to return more adamantly. I learned it’s better to let the thoughts remain and concentrate on what’s beneath them.
It has taken me a long time to fully understand the fourth line of this stanza, “God is all that you can long for, God is all his creatures’ home.” My resistance to its message had to do with language getting in the way. First, I no longer use the word “God” because it evokes so many misunderstandings. I’d rather use the words Radiant All, the Beloved, or the One, which more closely approach the true meaning.
Secondly, my understanding of “longing” has evolved over time. For me it first came in the desire to have a boyfriend, then husband and then a second husband who is my life partner. I discovered that the longing for something more remained even after the life partner arrived. Simply concentrating on longing, longing, longing in the heart without any object of desire is a beautiful Sufi practice which helps open the heart to something greater. Through the years, I realized the Divine Oneness is all that can ultimately fulfill me.
The first line of the second stanza, “Taste and see him, feel and hear him, hope and grasp his unseen hand,” speaks of the spiritual senses that have graced my experience from time to time. These include visions and auditions. They may develop in a seeker, but are not necessary for spiritual attainment. This line points respectively to the taste, sight, hearing and touch facets of the inner senses. Only smell is missing. Did the lyricist have such experiences to refer to them so eloquently?
The song’s last line, “Lead us thro’ the land of shadows to thy blest eternity,” reveals the hope in my heart, especially when inner and outer challenges bombard me. The environmental crises, world suffering, and political ineptitude aptly constitute part of this land of shadows. Fortunately, the hymn doesn’t leave us there but points to a greater existence that is possible even in this lifetime.
How fascinating that a song heard in my late teens contained the seeds of my spiritual unfolding. Perhaps my story will inspire you to look for clues in your early life which may also indicate your life’s path.