Beauty Bridges the Gap between the Modern Woman and Mary

Beauty can show us that we are meant for love, and points to the One who created us for that love.

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By Carrie Gress

I have been speaking and writing about women now for four or five years. One of the insights that has struck me most deeply about women today is the wide chasm between who women think they are and the ideal woman: the Virgin Mary. It is so gaping that it is almost laughable to suggest that women should consider Our Lady as a role model. Imagine suggesting that to a secular woman?

And yet, the continued fruit of what I have called "the spirit of an antimary" continues to leave women miserable. Every statistic of happiness metrics reveals that women today are not happy; the rates of substance abuse, obesity, depression, and divorce are quite staggering.

One group, Behold, has found a way to bridge the divide between the modern woman and Mary while also bringing healing to all the brokenness. The approach is simple, but profound - women meeting God and Mary's feminine genius by contemplating beauty.

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Started in 2016, the group took its name from a pattern in scripture: the word "behold" is used when one is called by God or in an encounter with God through goodness or beauty. Using visio divina, or "divine seeing" Behold is helping women understand their call and have a true encounter with God in his goodness and beauty.

I spoke with the founder of Behold, Katarina Woltornist, to find out more about the program.

Gress: How did Behold come about?

Woltornist: Behold is the result of being struck by beauty in my own life. In 2013 to 2014, I had entered religious life. During my time of discernment, I realized God was calling me back into the world. This experience was a real call from God…A call to see that I found so much of my value in what I did, versus the reality that I was a daughter of God.

In that trying time of my life, the only thing that helped me find God was art. As I began to pray with art and scripture together, I recognized it was profoundly changing my life.

From there, I had this desire to share my encounter with the Lord through praying with art. What originally started out as a short 5 week program at a parish, unfolded into a ministry beyond myself. The women from the first group loved it so much they wanted to return. I also I saw a need that went beyond my own parish as other parishes started contacting me about it.

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Gress: What is the goal?

Woltornist: Our mission is to lead women to understand their God-given dignity through a faith-filled encounter with God, Mary, and themselves by praying with sacred art in communion with one and other.

In a nutshell, our ministry ultimately is about transformation and encounter. We want to lead women through prayer so that they can meet the Lord through beauty and scripture. Through this encounter with the Lord and Mary’s feminine genius, we hope women are able to receive the gift of themselves, and go about sharing that gift with the world!

Gress: What has been the response?

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Woltornist: So far, we’ve received extremely positive feedback. Many of the women from our groups have returned for more programs in Visio Divina. Some have even begun facilitating their own groups! These women have been struck by beauty, and want to share Christ from their experience. 

Gress: Why meditate on beauty?

Woltornist: Beauty has an immense capacity to make us stop and receive. We are body and soul, so having the opportunity to be inspired by something physical can lead our souls into our original call as God’s creatures. 

In “The Life of Christ” Nicholas Cabasilas, says, “When men have a longing so great that it surpasses human nature and eagerly desire and are able to accomplish things beyond human thought, it is the Bridegroom who has smitten them with this longing. It is he who has sent a ray of his beauty into their eyes. The greatness of the wound already shows the arrow which has struck home, the longing indicates who has inflicted the wound."

This is what beauty does. It can wound our hearts, showing that we are meant for more. It can show us that we are meant for love, and points to the One who created us for that love. Beauty ultimately can lead us to communion with God.

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All photos courtesy of Mary Sarah Ivers.

Carrie Gress