The following is a transcript of the Raised Catholic podcast. To listen to the podcast, click here.
Hi friends. Today I’m following up with an idea from last week’s episode, which was all about digging in through our faith foundations and holding things up to the light – our beliefs, practices, faith habits, things like that. I thought that this older episode might provide a helpful lens for those of us who are deciding what to hold onto, what to let go of, and what to bring to a place of greater prominence in our daily lives. The episode is called Beauty, Truth, and Goodness, it was episode number 43, and it originally aired in late October of 2021. To put us in a good frame for that episode, I thought I’d read a little poem for you here. It’s called Mindful, by Mary Oliver, and it relates to that conversation really well, I think. Let’s talk about all of it over at substack at kerrycampbellwrites.substack.com. By the way, thank you so much to those who have subscribed and have even sent a few friends my way, I really appreciate that, and I would love to know where you are finding beauty, truth and goodness these days, so I’ll see you all over there in the comments!
Here is “Mindful,” by Mary Oliver.
I see or hear
that more or less
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?
Today is episode 43: Beauty, Truth and Goodness
Well, hi, friends. So, this week, I had kind of a terrible day, and I’ll tell you a little about it. That day, I had some professional worries, had a book proposal rejection, and was certain I didn’t have a friend in the world, and all of that before noon! Maybe you can relate to a day like this, when everything seems to go wrong, and your mind creates a narrative that it’s not just a bad day but actually a bad life. Gosh, we tell ourselves stories, don’t we? Well, today’s episode is about how to set our minds right, and how we can see our lives through God’s loving lens using the guideposts of beauty, truth, and goodness.
When my kids were younger, I’d impress upon them the importance of being gatekeepers of their own minds. Scary movies, disturbing content, even some things they heard from a few choice classmates; these could provoke reactions that stayed with them for days, but only if they let them in. “You have the power to control what gets in there in the first place,” I’d say, “and you have to. What gets into your mind is your responsibility. You have to be the gatekeeper of your own mind, so much as you can.” It’s good advice for all of us, and well, I guess I’ll just speak for myself. It’s good advice for me. When I’m scrolling and comparing and feel ‘less than’ everyone else’s curated seemingly perfect lives, I’m not being a good gatekeeper for myself. When I feel the urge to engage in what will certainly be spirited, totally fruitless and likely painful debate with someone based on something they say or post, I know I’ve let the gate dangerously down. And as an empathetic person, I find I even must distance myself from very emotional or tragic movies or tv sometimes because those storylines can stick with me in a way that they can be hard to shake out.
Anyway, to get back to my very terrible day. I found myself at the end of it, kind of shell-shocked, and maybe you know how that goes. Yes, there had been crying and yes, there was self-care and a long walk, and I felt wrung out and ready for the sleep which would lead to a much more hopeful morning. But before that, I had to acknowledge the strange fact of a song stirring in my heart. I wrote it in my prayer journal and as I did, I sang the words.
Know that the LORD is God indeed;
he formed us all without our aid.
We are the flock he loves to feed,
the sheep who by his hand were made.
Something in my spirit, or maybe the Holy Spirit who lives within me, was pointing me toward the beauty of that melody, the truth of God’s sovereignty and care reflected in the lyrics, and the reality that I really can rest in God who loves me, all of that leading to the goodness of the settled heart of a much-loved child.
Plato called truth, goodness and beauty ‘Transcendentals’, or the properties of being. If we want to know anything, these are the things that can be known: what is true, what is right, what is lovely. Each of them represents whole spheres of study; science being the study of truth, religion being the study of goodness, and art as the study of beauty. Linked with the human capacities to think, wish, and feel, they’re paralleled with the philosophical pursuits of logic, ethics, and aesthetics.
So, how does this ancient history of the pursuit of truth, goodness and beauty serve us today? How can these three serve as the guideposts we most need in a world that continually serves us the opposite of truth, goodness, and beauty and in fact, questions the very reality of them?
If we believe there are such things as goodness, truth, and beauty, then we can use our God-given agency to orient ourselves toward each of them every day in the choices that we make. In this troubled and chaotic world, we can be the gatekeepers of our own minds, bodies, and spirits and maybe you’ll agree that in this particular time in history, we must.
Some of the everyday choices we can make toward beauty are small but meaningful: eating an orange instead of a bag of Doritos, reading a good book over scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, taking a walk, and looking at the sky over engaging with hateful content on our televisions. There’s a reason we decorate our homes, love looking at a fire, and appreciate good art and music. We are programmed by our Creator to love beauty, but somehow the things we habitually take in these days are kind of ugly, don’t you think? Our spirits know the difference, and they’re telling us, in that feeling of fire in our brains, our skyrocketing anxiety, our divisive anger. Friend, this is not how we were made to live.
Goodness is defined as morally virtuous, beneficial, and nourishing. We know the good feeling of helping another person or undertaking a good work. And we can define goodness by our actions, and we totally should, but goodness is also reflected in the state of the heart, the purity and wholeness of what we think and ponder. I see goodness when I look into the eyes of my pup, Bailey, or my preschool music students. Goodness is just in there. Orienting our minds toward goodness will lead us to more good acts, and gosh, doesn’t the world need more of that today? In the letter Paul wrote to the Philippians, he said,
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
When it comes to truth, there seems to be so much up for debate these days. What is true, or what you perceive as the truth, can change depending on who you listen to, and this is confusing and painful and leads to brokenness in relationships and even violence as we’ve seen. We can’t agree on what is true, even in very basic matters, so we can’t move forward in making things better than they are. We’re divided and we’re stuck. This very challenging time in history makes me think of something Paul said in his letter to the Romans.
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.”
Now, I’m not out here claiming to have all the answers, believe me. I’m a human, just like you, and I don’t know the truth about all things. Like you, some of the things I believe are true and some of the things I believe are probably not true, but I believe there is such a thing as truth that is, over time, knowable. We can all move toward absolute truth. I don’t believe truth is relative, though you do see voices out there selling their brand of ‘truth’ and they use it play on people’s emotions, purposefully manipulating them into their version of the truth on a wide range of subjects, and this is not only sinful but destructive, as we’ve seen. So, in this time that is so chaotic, so intentionally confusing, how can we know what is true?
Well, it’s a whole other podcast and too big of a question for me to tackle, honestly, but the answer was maybe easier to find before we were all so electronically connected, before there were so many voices readily available at our fingertips, before algorithms designed to get and keep our attention, to make us angry, tribal, and fearful and to keep us that way were just how we lived out our everyday lives. Do you remember a time before all of that? I do. Maybe truth was easier to find then, but maybe not. I don’t know.
If we can settle our spirits and be intentional, the three guideposts of beauty, truth, and goodness can be the path out of this wilderness we find ourselves in. We may find that one guidepost will lead to another, that finding beauty on a walk in the woods will lead us to the truth of God’s creativity. The goodness of holding a door open for someone will lead us to the beauty of experiencing our shared humanity once again. Knowing the truth of our limited time on this earth might lead us to the beauty of living it well, more holy, present, one choice at a time.
At least that’s what I’m hoping. At the end of my very terrible day this week, it was God who put a new song in my spirit and who illuminated truth, goodness, and beauty for me so that I could begin again with a whole new day, and friend, the week got so much better when I did, remembering the truth that the Lord is God indeed. As we move through this week ahead, let’s let beauty, truth and goodness be the guideposts we need to move forward, and let’s try doing that together.
Thanks so much for listening today. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. Thanks for sharing, rating, reviewing, and subscribing to this podcast wherever you listen – that is so helpful toward growing this space for fellow travelers and I really appreciate that, so thank you! As we close today, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Oh God, the world is so loud. There’s trouble and turmoil most everywhere we look these days, so cause us instead to look at You. Source of all beauty, goodness and truth, help us to choose well in small and big ways to find Your beauty amid the ugliness, Your truth amid the lies, and You who is goodness above all else.
We pray in the Holy Name of Jesus, amen.
Friend, thanks so much for listening today, and I’ll see you next time.
Today, we’re talking about the transcendentals of beauty, truth and goodness and how these can serve as guideposts toward the lives we want to be living in these chaotic times. I hope these resources will help you explore this topic further on your own!
1. Video: O My Soul, by Audrey Assad
2. Podcast: Things Above with James Bryan Smith
3. Podcast: Drink With a Friend, with Tsh Oxenreider and Seth Haines
4. Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table, by Shauna Niequist
5. Chef’s Table: visually beautiful storytelling about beautiful food and the chefs who make it. This series will slow you down and help you learn to see and experience beauty for sure.
6. Journal prompts:
Where did I find beauty today?
How can I be more impeccable with my words?
Who has been an example for goodness for me lately?
7. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
8. How Beautiful, by Twila Paris
9. Goodness of God, by Israel & New Breed, Cristabel Clack
10. What a Wonderful World, by Eva Cassidy