people and from things, has healing power. It is like the presence of the divine, dwelling in all things. It can change the way we regard others, the created world, and ourselves. It can inspire compassion; it can transform pain. When I was the arts director for the Jane Addams Hull House in Chicago, I worked with over a hundred wards of the state, teenagers who had grown up surrounded by gangs, drugs, poverty and violence. At a birthday party for the director of the program one of the girls threw back her head and sang “Amazing Grace.” And when Tamika sang, grace filled the room, for she has a voice that is more than amazing. She had been homeless and abused.
I took her to breakfast the next morning, and we talked.
“If I couldn’t sing I’d have to take drugs,” Tamika said. “Because drugs kill the pain. But beauty is bigger than the pain.”
The beauty that saves the world is in and with Tamika. The beauty that saves the world is bigger than pain. It is bigger than injustice. It is even bigger than what we call ugliness or degradation. It can lift us beyond conflict and suffering; it can be made manifest in many ways. What 18 th philosophers called standards of taste do not confine this beauty.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta was known to say that in her work she and her nuns were doing something beautiful for God. Her dedication to that beauty was contagious. She recounted a story of one of her novices who saw beauty where most people saw only filth and disease. The young nun told Mother Teresa, “They brought a man who had fallen into a drain, and had been there for some time. He was covered with wounds and dirt and maggots, and I cleaned him and I knew I was touching the body of Christ.”
The young nun could see divine beauty in the maggot-covered man. The man from the drain was not an object of pity, or a threat to her health and well-being. As she saw the beauty in him, the young nun was in what the philosopher Martin Buber called an I-Thou relationship with the man she was cleaning.
Martin Buber suggests that human existence is relational or dialogical. There are different kinds of relationships: the I-I, I-It, and I-Thou. If you are in an I-It relationship you see other people and creatures as objects; you may use them. In an I-I relationship you see them as extensions of yourself; they must think and believe as you do. But in an I-Thou relationship you see the other as an independent presence, worthy of your attention and respect. Their differences are neither disagreeable nor threatening to you; they are a source of wonder. In an I-Thou relationship you can see the divine in the human.