Most folk don’t take nearly enough time to notice it. These days way too much ugliness hides the beauty that’s always around us. Even when we don’t pay attention, beauty surprises us with magic and mystery. Beauty is a lot like hope.
The magical appearance of beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder. For me, beauty can inspire me by color and movement, by the shimmering stars on a clear night, by the magnificence of a tree’s movement in the breeze, by looking into the eyes of my grandchildren. Beauty is there for us always—to be seen, to be heard, to be sensed deeply in our bodies and in our spirits.
These days, I need more of it—more hope, more beauty. I need more visions of beauty to supersede the ugliness of injustice, division, racism, misogyny, homophobia, political warring, brokenhearted immigrants looking for life, mass shootings, Covid, gun violence, child trafficking, suffering in Ukraine—all the varied chaos around the world.
And then there are the people here and there who bring grace to us all by transforming ugliness into beautyand hope.
As for the beauty revealed in the opening photo, I don’t know who created it or photographed it. I do know that he or she is a person who finds beauty in unlikely places at unexpected times, and translates that beauty into grace to be shared with those who most need it.
Who knows about that image? The striking silhouette of the trees, the birds flying above, the twinkling stars in the sky, and all of that with swirls of color that seem to me like holy movement. Regardless of the source of that photograph, I like to believe that its beauty—all beauty—comes directly from God as grace for me, and for you.
One thing pandemic isolation has done is to inspire me by images of places I cannot see in person. Now that I live in Georgia, it is difficult to travel back home to Arkansas. So if I am to once again see and enjoy the beautiful landscapes in Arkansas, I must see them in images like this stunning photograph by Gregory Ballos.
There are images to see everywhere one looks—in nature, in books, in National Geographic photographs and videos, in blogs like this one, in one’s imagination, everywhere we are willing to look. The Creator paints swashes of vibrant color across nature’s enormous canvas, and it is there for those who have eyes to see. The sky, the forest, the mountains and the valleys, the oceans, the streams and rivers, the lakes and the waterfalls—in greens and blues and grays streaked with every hue imaginable—all of it is there if we take a moment to look.
To all my pandemic brothers and sisters all over the world, I pray that you are in the places you want to be seeing the things you want to see. Yet I am very aware that many of you, like me, are not where you truly want to be. I long for my home, for Arkansas, where I can see my son and my grandchildren and where I can see the natural beauty I took for granted in the thirty-five years I lived there. The pandemic holds me fast, right where I am at this moment, and I cannot see my heart’s desire.
There is another kind of seeing. It is the seeing that involves both the eyes and the soul. You and I have some control over what I call soul-seeing. I have to admit that my problem with soul-seeing is that I rarely truly see when I look. It doesn’t matter really whether I am looking at nature or at a photographic image, I seldom look long enough to really see. I admit that I am the problem, because I feel compelled to be busy, all the time, with projects and writing and various endeavors that have the potential to consume me. Truthfully, I allow those endeavors to consume me. I admit it. I am far too busy to intentionally see. Soul-seeing is being able to see beauty with your eyes and your soul.
You may have seen the lovely books of the late Beatrix Potter, who was was an English writer, illustrator, natural scientist and conservationist. From her life’s work, one can assume that she is a keen observer. I imagine that she was a person who was able to truly see. She wrote, in fact, that she was grateful to have what she called ”the seeing eye.”
Thank God I have the seeing eye, that is to say, as I lie in bed I can walk step by step on the fells and rough land seeing every stone and flower and patch of bog and cotton pass where my old legs will never take me again. — Beatrix Potter
For Potter, seeing seemed natural in her ability to consider nature and conservation as well as prose and art. Seeing is natural. We see without thinking. Truth is, seeing seems easy, doesn’t it? Everyone with the gift of sight knows how to do it, and those who are unable to see physically figure out how to ”see” in myriads of ways.
I wonder about it, though. I wonder if I am too preoccupied to really see what’s around me. Is my busy-work more important to me than mindfulness? If seeing is so easy, how do we miss all of the magnificent beauty that surrounds us?
It’s a ponderable question
Why not take a few quiet, meditative moments to answer it? The video below is two minutes and eight seconds long. Can you spare that much time? If you can, I invite you to relax in those two minutes and eight seconds. I invite you to mindfulness, to be fully present in those few moments. I hope you will see, with your soul’s sight, nature’s beauty in this video.
Life is all about beauty and terror, each descending on us at will and rearranging everything. I think of the wise words of Frederick Buechner:
Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.
The constant picture in my mind is a rough, rocky path with unknown crooks and turns, and the destination unseen. That image of life’s journey is enough to cause anyone fear, and though the path has its own beauty, it also holds the terror of unexpected twists on a rocky way.
For quite a long time, I have been facing a time of beauty and terror in the guise of my upcoming kidney transplant. How beautiful it is to know that a kidney donor is willingly offering a kidney to a stranger. At the same time, I nurse a small feeling of terror at times about the outcome of the surgery. Will I have pain? Will I recover quickly? Will the kidney work? Will I tolerate my lifelong immunosuppressant medications? Will the transplant really happen?
“Don’t be afraid” is indeed the strongest and best word of encouragement. It is quite wonderful when we reach a point in life — if ever we do — where fear is no longer our constant companion. The way to get there, I think, has everything to do with two things: enjoying a close relationship with God (something that is not always easy to accomplish); and being a part of a genuine, caring community. Being close to God and being encouraged by your community keeps fear at bay so that the beautiful part of living can emerge.
Richard Rohr would say that our “work” is to know God’s desire for us to live into the fullness of our humanity and our identity. In other words, recognize that our humanity is certainly open to fear, but be vigilant about claiming our identity as God’s own children. Because it is that identity, that holy relationship with God, that brings us the beautiful part of life.
Richard Rohr shares the words of one of his favorite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke:
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror,” the poet writes. This is surely the poetry of life: to admonish us to let it all happen, all the beauty, all the terror. Because God uses all of it, together, to create in me the person I am meant to be.
So the end of the story is this: I will get a transplant and I will let it all happen — all of it — so that the beauty and the terror can renew my life and embolden my spirit.
On another note, please pray for me as I look toward my kidney transplant on November 15th. I am grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often felt so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:
A “Go Fund Me” page is set up for contribution to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link:
In the middle of the natural beauty of Arkansas, my friend took a photograph and entitled it “Beauty. Serenity.” It prompted me to ponder that for a few moments.
I wondered what in my life brings beauty and serenity to me and to those around me. The questions trickled through my mind slowly as I tried to place qualitative and quantitative strictures on beauty and serenity. (As if one could really quantify the whole of what beauty is or see pure serenity through a human lens.) My quest to try to interpret beauty and serenity went on into the night and into the rise of a new day. Still I could not nail it down. It is as elusive as a butterfly in flight, defying explanation.
As for beauty, it seems to be something I can see, something I can look at and see what lies beneath shapes and colors and texture and form. It is when something I see takes on life, and in it, I see a spark of the Divine.
To truly see beauty, I must intentionally expose myself to it and to its full potential. The blossom of a flower. The trees in a verdant forest. The ocean waves moving gently upon the shore. The sparkle of a flowing stream. The majesty of a range of mountains and the vibrant green of a valley.
In each of these visual images, I might very well see a spark of the Divine. But I must first look, and see, and linger before such beauty long enough to see its depth. I must look into a blossom and into the leaves of a forest. I must gaze upon the glory of a mountaintop and walk slowly through a valley of green. I must sit at the edge of the sea and watch the waves greet the shore.
And then there’s serenity, the state of being that always seems to escape me. Serenity is the peaceful sense of calm that envelops a person’s soul and spirit. But I must first allow it, embrace it, and welcome it. When I can do that — and I readily admit that I seldom can — the spark of the Divine I will see most clearly is the light of the spark within myself. I love the wonderfully positive affirmation written by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee.
We have in us a divine spark that you can see. It’s a Light that shines in the human being. It’s our direct access to truth, our direct access to God. The purpose of all the spiritual practices that exist are to awaken that spark, to give it life, to give it energy, so that it can transform you.
God, I would be transformed. Awaken that spark within me, so that its light will become a part of my very soul, Enliven in me the spark that brings transformation to every part of me that yearns for your Divine impulse.
The spark of the Divine is beauty and serenity all at once. It is in the moments that stop us in our tracks that we can truly see the beauty around us and within us.
It is in those unforgettable moments of life’s splendor, when we allow serenity to fully embrace us in gentle arms of peace, that we finally know deep rest.
It is when beauty and serenity link arms to surround us that we can truly know the spark of the Divine within. I recognize that spark, ever so often, in just a handful of my best moments. Even for that seldom-experienced grace, I am most thankful.
So I wish for you the same kind of grace, that you might see beauty, know serenity, and visualize, within yourself, the spark of the Divine. The blessing I leave with you is best expressed by the 14th Century Persian poet, Hafiz.
I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in the darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.
I have had a lifelong love affair with trees. Trees have inspired and strengthened me in many ways. The huge magnolia tree from my troubled childhood was a place of safety, giving me a place to hide from danger, offering to me a place to feel protected.
Miss Martha’s sprawling fig tree on the edge of our back yard bore wonderfully unusual fruit, soft and sweet and delectable. Her plum trees were loaded with plums, sweet and sour and delicious both ways. The fond memory I have of Miss Martha’s trees is punctuated with an angry Miss Martha catching us stealing figs and plums, yelling at us with an ominous voice, and chasing us from her yard.
The African plains graced my life with the gift of watching giraffes feeding on flat-topped thorn trees and elephants pushing their weight against misshaped baobab trees. The colorful swaying of ten foot tall bougainvillea trees was a mesmerizing sight. And in Africa, poinsettia plants are trees, trees like I had never before seen.
Beyond this crash course on botany, and dendrology, I share a heart-and-soul love of trees. It is almost a spiritual connection for me, one that keeps me fully grounded, one that represents life, growth, rootedness, protection and sheer enjoyment.
It’s possible, you know — we learn it from the trees —
to be full of grace and humor, dancing in the light
while remaining fully grounded,
rooted in the gravitas of being . . .
– Diane Walker
God is pleased, I think, when we dance in the light full of grace and humor. We learn it from the trees, Diane Walker says. I believe she’s right. So today, I will be spending a few moments sitting in the shade of our Chinese Tallow tree and swinging underneath a towering Pin Oak. Perhaps in the leaves that rustle gently in the breeze, I will hear God’s whispers.
Sometimes nature paints the sky with brilliant color to remind us of vibrancy and energy. Often such a painting in the sky comes to us when we’re downcast. It is a gift, a grace gift sent by God to caress and comfort us. It is a thing of extraordinary beauty.
Perhaps it is a message to us to reach again for the sky and dream new dreams. It is a message that says, “Take back your energy. You are strong. You are resilient. You can get through down times.”
Life has taught me that when I fall face down in the dust, I can, and I will, get up again. I will face another day with courage and joy. I will move forward on this journey, and I will proclaim victory over whatever assails me.
I am not afraid. I am not permanently discouraged. I am simply taking the time I need to refresh myself. There are times when all of us are exhausted from acting stronger than we feel. It’s not necessary to pretend. It is healthier to own the place where we are, no matter how painful it might be at the moment.
I often recite this verse from the Bible when I need an extra burst of strength.
They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
That scripture, along with occasional paintings in the sky, bring me renewed hope and strength for another day’s journey.