I am deeply in need of devotion. It is my favorite form of reverence, and lately, there’s just not been enough of it.
To me, devotion is using beauty to get to God.
There’s nothing like a gold-gilded set of rosary beads, an impressionist painting of the Virgin Mary, or the stained glass windows of a Catholic Cathedral to help me feel God’s presence.
And it’s not because of the meditation aspect of admiring art, it’s simply because it’s beautiful. And when I’m surrounded by beautiful things I intensely feel that God is with me.
It reminds me of a Friends episode (as most things do), in which Rachel’s mother decides to help Rachel baby-proof her apartment. “I thought I’d bring in my decorator,” she says, “because I really feel like I’m at my best when I’m surrounded by jewel tones.”
It’s supposed to be humorous, but to me it’s true! I need to be surrounded by beauty. Flowers on the kitchen table. Beautiful clothing hanging in my closet. Velvet tufted chairs and golden candlesticks adorning my office. Jewel tones—it’s my ultimate form of prayer.
Even when I was 18 years old and going through Catholic Confirmation classes, I chose Saint Rose as my patron saint. Not because of any particular qualities she had, but because then my full name would be Elisabeth Anne Rose. And that just sounded pretty.
That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have my priorities straight. That I should have picked some saint with an ugly name that at least had some meaning behind it. I chose beauty over practicality, but in the end it all paid off.
After all, it’s not lost on me that “Elisabeth” was Mother Mary’s cousin, “Anne” was Mother Mary’s mother, and “Rose” is the symbolic representation of the Divine Feminine in general and Mother Mary in particular.
It’s as if God knew something I didn’t (he did) and used my name to foreshadow my life. To guide me into what I do now as a student of the Divine Feminine and a scholar of the Divine Mother. To use beauty, not practicality to guide me into a more devotional relationship with the Divine.
And now I can feel that it’s happening again. Because as it goes with my prayer life, I’m having a bit of an off moment. And the second I sat down to write this article I realized why: because my prayer life lacked its usual luster. I craved beauty, and the depths of devotion I knew came along with it.
So I took to my local Catholic store and bought a mantilla — aka “a veil.”
You may have (not) noticed that approximately 0.01% of Catholic women wear a lace veil over their heads when they attend mass. There are totally spiritual reasons for doing this—it’s a sign of devotion and reverence—but I’ve decided to do it because it’s beautiful. And because it makes me feel like Mary.
And maybe that might not sound like a good enough reason to you, but to me that’s the reason I do everything. That’s devotion. It’s starting with beauty, and following that glimmering thread until you wind up where God always wanted to take you. Somewhere beautiful, and devotional.
After all, it was an elegant embossed leather bible that got me to read the word, it was a gold-gilded set of rosary beads that got me to pray the rosary, and it was an image of a 13-year old middle eastern Mary that led me to pursue my graduate degree in Mariology—the study of the Virgin Mary.
And when I asked two of the nuns in my Mariology classes why they chose to join the sisterhood at the tender age of eighteen, they both smiled and said, “the outfits.” (I don’t blame them). Because God uses beauty to draw us nearer to him.
And so I went to church, adorned with a beautiful black veil (according to tradition, wed women wear black veils and unwed women wear white veils), and though I was one of only three women in church wearing one that day, I absolutely adored it. It cloaked me in shadow and mystery, and somehow separated me from all that wasn’t God.
I don’t know how else to explain it except to say that I wore the veil because it was beautiful, but God used the veil to draw me deeper into devotion with Him.
So if you were asking me how to deepen your devotional practice, I’d tell you to start with what feels beautiful to you, and allow God to take it from there.