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Transcript: Episode 6: Beauty and Calling

**Episode 2 Beauty and Calling**

Catherine Cowell


Welcome to the Loved Called Gifted Podcast this is your place to come for musings about spirituality identity and purpose.

I’m your host Catherine Cowell.


This episode we are going to be thinking about life purpose, and looking at it through a particular lens.  And today I would like to have a look at that through the lens of beauty.

I realise that is not the most obvious place to come at this from, so let me give you a bit of an outline of where we are going to be going.

We are going to start by thinking about beauty, why it is not shallow, and then looking really at how that connects to our deepest identity, and therefore how we can get to calling through that.

This probably isn’t something that you think about too often, but actually we are all drawn to things that we find beautiful.  That is what makes it a good lens through which to look at purpose and calling.  


I first became aware of this really, reading and listening to John O’Donohue, and he has written a particularly good book called “Divine Beauty” which is subtitled the invisible embrace.  And what he says in that is that there are two spiritual movements that we notice in our times of kind of deepest connect and spiritual awareness.  The first movement that he identifies is that of awakening, that sense of coming alive.  So I am a Christian, and on days when I feel most connected to God, when I feel most alive, then I do get that sense of awakening and enlivening.  And if you think about it I am sure that you have come across that too, when the world feels brighter and lighter, when the things that you want to do kind of flow, and you have that sense of kind of unencumbered energy coming from you.  I remember talking a number of years ago to a friend, and on the night that he became a Christian, he said that walking home he felt like the world had been steam cleaned, and like he had been steam cleaned, and there was this real sense of sort of coming to life.

If you want a less spiritual example of that, I do not know if you have seen the film “Despicable Me” but there is a scene in that where Gru has fallen in love, and suddenly there is just this awakening and coming alive, and he is sort of dancing through the streets, and smiling at small children, and there is that kind of sense that he has gone from being this sort of closed in not very alive, fairly grumpy person, to somebody who is suddenly awakened and full of life, because of that kind of falling in love.  And we all have moments like that.  

So that is the first movement, that sense of spiritual awakening.


And then the second major sort of movement if you like that we notice within ourselves spiritually, is that of surrender.  And that is something that Buddists really attempt to get to through their meditation and things, that sense of kind of non detachment, of allowing the world and the universe to do what it is going to do, a place of tranquility and acceptance.  So as a Christian, it’s those moments when you stop telling God what you think God ought to be doing, and instead you get to that place of surrender, and acceptance.


So those are our kind of two major spiritual movements if you like, that movement of awakening and coming alive, and that sort of - what can seem like an opposite movement in some ways, although I don’t think it is opposite - of surrendering and allowing things to be what they will be.   The supreme example of that sense of acceptance is Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane where having argued and fought with God about what is about to happen, and having done the kind of asking - you know - “is there not any way this cup could pass from me?”, Jesus then comes to the point of saying “not my will but yours” and there is that surrender.  And in that, even when things are difficult there is a sense of peace, a sense of kind of allowing things to be as they will be.  

So those are two movements - that awakening, and that surrender.  And John O’Donohue makes this observation about beauty, he says, “that in the experience of beauty we awaken and surrender in the same act”.  And when I read that it just made sense, it is completely true.  If you think about it, imagine a moment when you are listening to some music that you find beautiful, you get that sense of both surrender and peace, but also enlivening, that awakens something very deep and very ancient in us.  So this is what he said, “you can slip into the beautiful with the same ease as we slip into the seem-less embrace of water. Something ancient within us, already trusts that this embrace will hold us”.


There are ways I think in which modern life has, maybe made us a bit suspicious of the idea of beauty, particularly if you think about the way that it kind of connects with the fashion industry and objectification and that sense that we should not just be looking at the outside of something, the kind of surface beauty of it, because that makes us less able to see what there is underneath.  And then of cause there is all that we see, particularly in the fashion industry, and celebrities, usually it has to be said famous women, who are doing their best to maintain an outward beauty in a way that actually is harmful, so the whole thing that you would go and get a surgeon to cut into your face in order to try and preserve an outward appearance of youth.  Or within the modelling industry the people who, I think this has improved a bit, but the people who would become thinner and thinner and thinner in order to try and attain some sort of outward ideal of beauty - that kind of thing makes us suspicious, and makes us move away from what is really beautiful.  And actually something doesn’t have to be perfect, we know this, in order for it to be beautiful.  But it is not just the worlds of celebrity and fashion, and our concerns about the objectification of women that has made us suspicious of beauty.  In face in our religious life over the last few hundred years, there has been a suspicion of things that are beautiful.  So if you think for example about the protestant reformation, much of that was about saying where churches had been built in order to be beautiful, there was something somehow suspicious about that, and there was so much desecration done to some great works of art, and some beautiful churches, because of that desire to remove that, kind of outward display of beauty that was seen as being inappropriate.  And that is deeply tragic actually, because as we are exploring here, there is something about beauty that connects to something very very deep and ancient within us.  We are meant to be creatures who respond to beauty I believe, and we know that we do.  We know that beauty is something that just touches us deeply.  


It is worth taking a moment here I think, just to think about what we mean by beauty, and it is not simply the outward appearance of something.  There are all sorts of things that can be beautiful, you will know people who are beautiful because of their character and who they are, and the way that they approach people.  You will have listened to conversations that are beautiful just because of the graciousness that there is between the people involved, and there will be things that you are drawn to that you find beautiful because they connect with something that is about who you are, and that beauty isn’t necessarily a kind of classical beauty that we sometimes think of when we think about things like works of art.  So we are taking beauty here as having a really wide broad meaning, but all the same I would really like to emphasise that there is nothing shallow about being attracted to something that is beautiful, it is how we are wired, it is how we are made.  


And that is why I think it is such a helpful lens if you are wanting to think about, well what is my life purpose, what is it that I am put on the earth to do?  Rumi [Jalāl al-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī] says this; “Let the beauty we love be what we do.  There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground”.


So that is my first invitation to you today, is to begin to think about, and start to notice what is it that you find beautiful?  Because what you find beautiful will be different to what other people find beautiful.  And one of the ways of starting to spot that I think, is to look out for those moments when you get that sense of both awakening and surrendering in the same moment that sense of both coming alive and finding peace all at once.  And just think about what is it, what are the moments in your life when you spot that, when you see that happening, that is worth thinking about because it will be connecting with something deep about who you are, and will be giving you some clues about what are things that you are drawn towards in this world and that gives you an idea of what your here for, what your purpose is, what you are called to create within the world.  And I love that last line in that Rumi quote, that there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground, and what I love about that is that sense of reverence and awe, that you are kind of doing something holy, because you are doing something beautiful, that you are doing something sacred because you are doing something beautiful.  And what you find beautiful, as I say, will be different to what other people find beautiful in some ways, although there are somethings obviously that will overlap, but that is the thing to look for, the thing to search for within yourself.  What are those moments when you find yourself connected to something that is beautiful?


So I think what might be helpful at this point is to give you some examples of some of the things that I find beautiful, and tell you a bit about how I think that links into to my own life calling, and that might help you a bit as you begin to observe this in yourself.


So one of the things that I am always inspired by is seeing people who are doing something that they are really good at, and that they enjoy doing, and you kind of see that, not only is this something that they are naturally good at, and have an aptitude for, but also awakes something of a passion within them.  So thinking back to my days training to become a speech therapist, and this was sort of more than 30 years ago, I can still remember, watching one our lecturers doing a speech and language assessment of a young girl, and simply seeing the way she was able to engage the child and her mother, and ask the right questions, and notice all kinds of things that were going on for this young girl in terms of her speech and language, and make notes of the whole thing at the same time, and was then able to talk to us about it afterwards.  And I just found the whole thing really beautiful.

On a similar note I really love conversations with people who are passionate about what they do.  Conversations like that I can remember for years.  An example of that would be going to an event for Church leaders, quite a number of years ago now, and got chatting to the woman who was doing the catering, and she talked about how much she loved cooking for people, how much she loved hosting them, and creating nice meals for people.  She said, “it is so wonderful doing this job I get to feed the people of God”, and that struck me as really beautiful.

So in both of those examples you will notice that something that I find beautiful really connects with something that I do, that I sense I am called to do, and that is about helping people to understand what their calling in life is.  And in my own work, some of the kind of goose bump moments for me are when somebody notices that something about themselves, that they sort of dismissed as almost trivial or irrelevant, they suddenly realise is valuable, and beautiful, and has something to offer the world.  

So one of the first Loved Called Gifted courses that Sean Kennedy and I did, in fact the very first workshop that we did, there was somebody there who spoke absolutely passionately about really loving to have people at her house and to host them and make them nice meals, and she didn’t care if she didn’t drink all evening, so long as her guests well fed and well watered.  But when we asked people to think about what were the things that gave them life, she couldn’t think of anything, and I reminded her of this conversation we had had at the beginning of the evening, about her hosting of dinner parties, and I said wouldn’t that go in the ‘these are things that give you life’ column, and her response was “well isn’t that just my guilty pleasure?”.  And as we spoke it became clear to her, as I sort of challenged her on that, that actually what she was doing was a really really good thing, that it was not something that everybody could do, not everybody is keen on having people round their house, not everyone can host in that way.  It is something that offers something really beautiful, and really good actually.  And so she kind of left with a renewed sense of who she was and what she did, some of things that she thought were not really important, were important, and had value, and that left her with an increased sense of ‘actually I have something to offer’ that is really good.  And that was a wonderful wonderful moment, and I have never forgotten it, and I have spoken about it before, but there again is an example of something that I find really beautiful.  And the fact that I find it beautiful is definitely linked to the fact that this is something I am called to do.


Here is another one alone the same lines, I love questions, a  lot of what I do is sort of in the realm of coaching and when you are coaching somebody, you are not telling them what to do you are asking them questions that will help them to explore and to understand for themselves.  And so those moments I absolutely, love those moments when I ask somebody a question, and that gives them space to think, and then you kind of see the cogs whirring, and somebody discovers something or something comes to their awareness about who they are or their situation, that opens a window that they hadn’t spotted before and I love those moments.  I love questions that make you think.  When I read the gospels one of the things that I find really beautiful is the fact that Jesus asks people questions, and I love the fact that he asks them questions much more often than he gives them answers, and there is this sort of ah-ha moment that happens, and I love the ingenuity of it, and I love the space that it gives people, I love the respect that there is in questions, that enable people to think and have space to think.  I find watching people who are good at listening, I love that, I find that really beautiful.  That just inspires me, and it touches something deep within me.  I suppose one of the things I find most beautiful in life is seeing people connect with God in a way that makes sense to them, and it is no surprise that one of the things that I do is spiritual direction, and I feel that is something that I feel really passionate about.  And just little snippets of conversation where you talk to somebody and they have a renewed sense of who they are being precious to God, as their identity being precious, people having space to explore and express their spirituality and their relationship with God in a way that is not judged, I find that really beautiful.  I was involved in sort of leading, or facilitating, something called ‘Church without walls’ for a number of years, and one of things that we did was we invited people into our space, and I recall a conversation with somebody, it was kind of very informal, and there was tea and cake and sandwiches and things, and I recall seeing somebody sort of hanging around outside on one occasion, and I went to have a chat with him, and he was struggling with drug addiction, and life was particularly difficult for him, and we had a bit of a chat, and I said he would be very welcome to come in for a cup of tea if he wanted.  His response to that was that he didn’t think he was sort of worthy, to come into something which was a church building, I mean it wasn’t a church building - it was just where we were meeting, but he didn’t think that would be ok, and we had a bit of a chat, and he did decide that he would come in and have a cup of tea.  And in that moment there was a welcome and hospitality, and you could just see the chink that said ‘well maybe this would be alright for me’ and that was a really beautiful, beautiful moment, and I just love that.  I love conversations with spiritual direction clients, people who are on a journey when you know that someone has moved a bit closer to the point of understanding that they are unconditionally loved.  That is just fabulous, beautiful, wonderful and so I love to do those things, I love to be part of those conversations, it feels like an honour, well it is an honour, and a privilege, and a deep deep joy to do those things.


So those are just a few examples of some of the things that I find beautiful, that definitely link with what my purpose is in life, and I could give you myriad other examples of different things that link to who I am and what I am called to do.  I think if you spend some time just noticing those moments when that happens for you, that may well give you some clues about what your calling is, and if you already know what your calling is, then you might just find it lovely, lovely confirmation of that.


Moving on to looking at the whole beauty thing from a slightly different angle.  I want to talk a little bit about the fact that actually some of what we do is not about doing things that are beautiful, but it is about sorting out things that are not, dealing with that are ugly - where there is brokenness and wounded-ness - where there are things going on that we think shouldn’t be, and we want to do something about that.  Here again actually taking this theme of beauty can give us some really good pointers to what it is that we might want to be doing.  So if you find that you have a real heart connection with some pain in the world, perhaps it might be something to do with the environment and the way that we have been treating the planet, or it might be to do with the fact that you see some people not getting the education that they think they ought to, or perhaps the way that women are treated, or there might be something about seeing people who are homeless or who are hungry, or observing poor nutrition.  There are lots and lots of things that we see that are not beautiful and that we would like to see sorted out, and we can have a real sense of calling to do that.  

I love this quote from John O’Donohue, what he says is, “when we address difficulty in terms of the call to beauty new invitations come alive”.

So here again we are taking this theme of beauty, but this time what we are saying is, when you are in a situation where you are wanting to see change in something that is ugly and difficult and full of pain, then one way of approaching that is to say ‘well what is the beauty that I want to see?’ rather than simply looking at the pain that surrounds us, and the thing that we are angry about.  Actually what is it that we would like to see, what is the beauty that we would like to see instead?  What is the beauty that we would like to see this situation called towards?  And that might give us some really good clues, and actually could breath some life and some joy into the thing that we are doing in terms of sorting something out.  I really love this idea of addressing difficulty in terms to a call to beauty, I really do think it can potentially open up new vistas, and new ways of thinking about something.  


So there we have it.  There is life calling and beauty, and I really hope there have been some insights there that will have been useful to you.  And remember that for many of us understanding our life purpose is a matter of putting together a number of different jigsaw pieces, so if this jigsaw piece is helpful to you then use it, and if it is not, well there will be other jigsaw pieces that are more helpful to you.


It has been a pleasure, thank you.


Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast.  If you’d like to get in touch you can e-mail, you can find a transcript of this podcast at and that is also the place to go if you are interested in the Loved Called Gifted course, or if you would like to find out about spiritual direction or coaching.


Thank you for listening.


[Theme music “Nice View” by Crowander, produced by David Szesztay CC 2019, please visit for more information.  File accessed at and used under creative commons: non-commercial with attribution].

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