Timeless, egg tempera painting by Daniel Ambrose
Viktor Frankl was an esteemed Jewish neurologist and psychiatrist practicing in Germany during the Nazi’s rise to power. He, along with his wife and parents were deported to the concentration camps. His wife and family died in the camps but somehow he survived.
When the war ended he wrote a candid autobiography, Man’s Search for Meaning. In it, he illuminated moments of fateful grace, and described the virtues that gave him the will to survive and find meaning in his experience.
How was he able to find meaning in the avalanche of horror? He narrowed it down, centering his book around three things: love, work and suffering.
And in several passages, he also exalted the beauty of art and nature.
Frankl and his fellow human beings were robbed of every identifying aspect of their former lives. Stripped of everything they owned and loved, they were physically, psychologically and spiritually tortured. Each carried the thought—I will be next. I will be killed.
And yet, in the midst of this human tragedy; this nightmare abyss of ugliness, somehow these soul ravaged humans found moments of grace and beauty.
Frankl writes of several transcendent experiences:
“As the inner life of the prisoner tended to become more intense. He also experienced the beauty of art and nature like never before. Under their influence he sometimes even forgot his own frightful circumstances”
He continues in another inspiring passage when he describes the effect a sunset had on one of the prisoners:
One evening, when we were already resting on the floor of our hut, dead tired, soup bowls in hand, a fellow prisoner rushed in and asked us to run out to the assembly grounds and see the wonderful sunset. Standing outside we saw sinister clouds glowing in the west and the whole sky alive with clouds of ever-changing shapes and colors, from steel blue to blood red. The desolate grey mud huts provided a sharp contrast, while the puddles on the muddy ground reflected the glowing sky. Then, after minutes of moving silence, one prisoner said to another, “How beautiful the world could be…”
Hope. I hear the universal hope of humanity in this prisoners words. “How beautiful the world could be…”
Witnessing and sharing the awesome beauty of art and nature is the primal, universal experience bonding we humans. It transcends all that divide us. We become united in the profound bond of hope and beauty when we immerse or selves in the soaring glory of nature’s timeless beauty.
The beauty of nature embodies the nature of beauty toward all humans. Yes, we need tangible things like shelter, food and clothing for our body comfort. But for our soul’s sake, for that intangible trait that gives us hope and inspiration, we need Beauty, Love, Art in all its forms, as much as we need open natural places of clean water and wildlife. These things are worthy of honor, celebration and our protection too, so vital for nurturing our spirits as well as insuring our survival.
Sometimes I feel insignificant in my views, my continually coming back to soulful ideas of love and beauty, beating against the wind of mighty, secular powers. But humans were ingrained with a spiritual bent for whatever reason. However we define it, we either lean toward it or away from it.
In their darkness, Viktor Frankl and the other prisoners craved to see the timeless beauty of nature. Getting a glimpse of a magnificent sunset, a pink sunrise reflected in a puddle surrounded by cold, gray mud, or the jewel-like blossom of tiny green leaves in spring, uplifted the spirits of the prisoners. For a moment their despairing minds were transported from their bleak circumstances.
It is profitable for behemoth powers to create fear and dissent among us. But it does not profit me. It robs me of hope, and trains me to fear people who do not share my views. Instead I seek to find our common ground. The miracle of nature is such a pathway of light.
I need voices like Viktor Frankl to remind me what is meaningful and true. Finding passages in his book about nature, inspires and encourages me to dig deeper into my own work as a painter of natural beauty. Society needs the voices of its artists and healers. It needs all of our collective voices speaking encouraging words of kindness, tolerance and hope.
As I worked on my painting, Timeless, I thought of this passage. It reminds me to think on these timeless things:
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. Philippians 4:8