Category Archives: beauty

Look around you

When I was in Nepal, 9 years ago, a friend would ask us a question almost every night as we drifted off to sleep –

“What did you see that was beautiful today?”

At first it was difficult to answer. Yet as I began to anticipate the question, I began to become aware of life going on around me – to have eyes that actively searched for beauty, even in the midst of darkness and pain.  I’ve mentioned this before, but it is such an important thing to be reminded of.

Today, beauty was in the children jumping over the flower beds with varying degrees of success. The youngest running down the asphalt-paved slope, skipping over cracks and lines… stopping to wave at a lady walking her dog down the sidewalk… The others jumping again and again and again, in perfect illustration of God’s joy and exultation in creation, in life –

“A child kicks its legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough… It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again,” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again,” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike: it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

~ G.K. Chesterton ~ Orthodoxy

“Do it again.” A child lives in the now – it doesn’t matter that you’ve swung them around for half an hour and are so dizzy you could fall over. “Do it again. One more time.” I want that ability to live here, now, in the present, so fully and completely that I am able to taste with every breath the reality of our God-drenched world, dizzy and drunk on this eternal life that lives within us now, in the midst of pain and sorrow, despite tears and brokenness, finding hope in every circumstance…

“Do it again, Abba…  Do it again…”

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The Call of the Rain…

“Water is always an invitation to imersion [for me], an immersion with a quality of totality, since it would accept all of me, as I am. Some primal urge invites me to return whence I came.

At times I have done so. There is some special delight in simply walking into a stream, stepping into a lake. The child’s delight in a puddle is my adult’s in the sea…

No rain falls that I do not at once hear in the sound of the falling water an invitation to come to the wedding. It is rare that I do not answer. A walk in an evening rain in any setting is to walk in the midst of God’s loving attention to his earth, and, like a baptism, is no simple washing, but a communication of life. When you hurry in out of the rain, I hurry out into it, for it is a sign that all is well, that God loves, that good is to follow. If suffering a doubt, I find myself looking to rain as a good omen. And in rain, I always hear singing, wordless chant rising and falling.

When rain turns to ice and snow I declare a holiday. I could as easily resist as stay at a desk with a parade going by in the street below. I cannot hide the delight that then possesses my heart. Only God could have surprised rain with such a change of dress as ice and snow…

Most people love rain, water. Snow charms all young hearts. Only when you get older and bones begin to feel dampness, when snow becomes a traffic problem and a burden in the driveway, when wet means dirt – then the poetry takes flight and God’s love play is not noted.

But I am still a child and have no desire to take on the ways of death. I shall continue to heed water’s invitation, the call of the rain. We are in love and lovers are a little mad.”

~Matthew Kelty, Flute Solo, Reflections of a Trappist Hermit, pp. 117-19

—–

Last week, I woke to thunder and lightning. As I sat at the table and watched the rain gush in sheets down the big picture window, I was reminded of the above quote. I came across it several years ago in Don Poestma’s wonderful book, Space for God, and since then it has been a reminder for me of the joy of water, of life, of finding God in all things.

That afternoon as the sky darkened, my brother and I prepared for a short bike ride – cooling off on a ride to the house we lived in ten years ago, just a couple of miles away. As we were pulling the bikes out of the garage, it started to sprinkle just a bit. I glanced at Jon with a wondering look, and he grinned back – of course he was still up for it.

So off we went… Something about bike riding makes me feel like a kid again – the jumping off the curb, swerving and skidding around corners, riding with no hands and standing up, speed and grace… the entire way there, it was gently sprinkling – a cooling, calming rain. When we arrived, we spent a while in the church parking lot across the street from our old house, trying to drift around the corners on our bikes, taking advantage of the slick asphalt as we skidded around corners in our makeshift racetrack…. so much fun (until Jon tried to take a corner just a little too fast, and wiped out – and even though there was no harm done, that ended that specific game.)

As we turned around and began to make our way home, the heavens opened – thunder, lightning, howling wind, driving rain… I could barely see as we crossed rivers and streams that had formed on the streets near our home. Yet as we rode, the above reflection resounded in my mind, and my heart, and joy and laughter exploded and overflowed from my heart. And in the midst of that overflow, there was gratitude… I am so blessed, and that is for a purpose, a reason beyond myself… may that life continue to spill over into all around…

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Filed under Amusements, beauty, bike, bittersweet, food for thought, grace, gratitude, joy, life, memories, rain, reflections, water

Where is this place? – که در آن است که در این محل؟

I came across this last week – and at the time, I was moved to tears… and wanted to share something I found beauty in…

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Filed under beauty, iran, life, poetry, youtube

hope and tragedy

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
~ Emily D.
—–
Watching the news this morning, watching what’s happening in Iran with bated breath, keeping apace with blogs and youTube… and praying. Seeing beauty and tragedy, tears in my eyes… a couple of things that moved me to pray, to hope, to look forward, and wish I could do more…
It is beautiful to see those who have been afraid stop being afraid.
It is beautiful to see people united, crying out for justice and a voice.
It is beautiful seeing a people crying out to God.
It is beautiful to see people stand up and say “enough!”
It brings tears to my eyes watching people confront the possibility of death, and continue to walk forward.
I am afraid for them, saddened by the violence and repression – yet full of hope as well.
The following is a translation via NIAC of an Iranian blogger:
“I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…”
Such strength, beauty, courage, and humility…

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Filed under beauty, courage, daily life, faith, food for thought, hope, inspiring, iran, tears

More links…

People have already mentioned this, but this photo… A friend from Taylor mentioned how it reminded her of the parable of the Good Samaritain, Persian style… Powerful to see the humanity and compassion in the midst of the turmoil.

Wronging Rights has another great interview up –

Ask an Iranian, Part II.

It includes some of the basic framework for understanding more about the conflict, as well as why Ahmadinejad could theoretically have won the election, who supports him, and the frustration of so many at seeing the voting process co-opted when there had been such hope and engagement…

Do go check it out

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Easter Medidations (c. 2006)

(Disclaimer: This is something I wrote [and posted here] 3 years ago. But I was rereading it, and decided that it was, once again, most appropriate. Besides, a couple of you might have missed it the first time around. Hence the re-post…)

—–

I sat beside my mother’s grave this morning. I don’t know how many years it has been since I’ve been there. Somehow it seemed appropriate, today of all days – the day when we celebrate (an odd word choice at first glance) the death of Jesus. I sat beside my mother’s grave and remembered. I sat there and missed her. I felt her absence, even there, because even though her body was buried there, SHE was no longer there.

As I think of death and bodies and absences, my mind turns again to today – Good Friday.

It seems difficult, if not impossible, to look back thousands of years, and imagine what that first “Good Friday” must have been – must have felt like – to the friends and family of the murdered man. I read the stories about the betrayal and death of Jesus from the perspective of the Resurrection. I look at Friday through the lens of Easter. And in doing so, I miss much of the pathos and the reality in what happened. In my mind, Jesus’ death has none of the power that my mom’s death had, or the deaths of my friends on the street. That’s because, in my mind, my mom and Miriam and Jeferson and Tiago and Everton’s deaths were all REAL. The effects are lasting. They are gone. I still miss them. Somehow, when seen only through Sunday’s events, Jesus’ death is transformed into something fake – a pretend death. But nothing could be further from the truth. Only when we enter into the brokenness and the anguish of that first Friday can we begin to understand the joy and hope of that Sunday.

On Friday, Jesus was dead. He was tortured. He was mocked. He was killed. He was dead. He stopped breathing. He stiffened up. His body grew cold. He was GONE. His loved ones watched, helpless. His mother and friends wept. They wept because they had lost their son, their friend, their brother, their hope. They believed, but their belief had betrayed them, left them hung out to dry.

Jesus’ lifeless body was taken from the cross. His stiffening corpse was carried to the tomb, prepared for burial, and then placed inside. Those who hadn’t run away in fear bent over and kissed his cold forehead with their warm lips as tears slid down their faces. When the tomb was shut, there was all the finality of the earth being thrown on my mother’s coffin, or the casket lid being tightened over Jeferson’s stillness. He was gone.

Feel the hopelessness. Savor the despair. Soak up the fear, the hurt, the betrayal, the numbness. For everything has changed. Where hope existed, now lies doubt. A few nights before, joy and love and laughter and life filled this room. Tonight, it is only ashes and dust, tears and mourning. His absence is everywhere. There is no escape. The vine has been ripped from the ground, and the branches are withered and dying. The shepherd has been killed and the sheep are scattered and helpless. The center could not hold.

This is the bitter cup of death. Jesus drank his own death down to the dregs. His friends, his disciples, drank it too. For each different, yet for each the agony and heartache and fear is the same. No one understood. All they knew was they missed him, and he was gone. Everything had changed.

—–

So many people have said it so much better than I can. But, that doesn’t stop me from wanting to jump in and say it all again – less eloquently perhaps, but no less heartfelt.

I’m not really sure where we go from here. On Friday I talked about entering into the pathos of Jesus’ death. Sunday is supposed to be a day of joy and awe. He is ALIVE! Jesus, who was dead, is dead no more. He lives. He breathes. The heart that grew still and cold beats once more. The blood that thickened in his veins now runs warm and fast. His toes crinkle. He sneezes. His chest rises and falls. He begins to sweat and itch and be hungry and thirsty. It’s too much for me to take in.

Why is that? I think it’s because I want it to be true so badly. But, I am afraid of getting hurt. I am afraid of fully committing to this belief because I fear what it will try and draw out of me. I hesitate and hem and haw and commit to it 80 percent… Keeping that bit in reserve so I can try and keep my heart safe. I want Jesus’ resurrection to be true. I believe it is. But I can’t imagine what it looks like… I can’t imagine Jeferson standing up, laughing his laugh and smiling his smile and singing with his voice, and being stubborn and a brat and angry and hurt and tired and cold and happy and joyful and just so fully himself. I want to. But that hope seems so far away. I can’t imagine what it would be like to see my mom walk into the room again – to hear her laugh with her entire body, to see the love in her eyes, to have her put her arms around me and feel like a little child again – to grin when she gets frustrated again, and be sad when I’ve disappointed her and to have her be her old self, before she got sick – to hear her scream when Dad would throw her in the water or watch her glow with righteous indignation and action when the poor, abandoned, and weak were left without an advocate, and were abused and exploited and taken advantage of… Oh, to see them again.

But all we were left with is memories. Only their absence is present. Until that day when Jesus came back to life, defeating death. Two thousand years ago, something changed. The disciples, who cowered in numb broken fear, received the scare of their lives. Their hope was dead. But all of a sudden, everything changed… He’s alive. He’s alive!

And in that hope of his resurrection, we know that death has been defeated. There is hope, not only for the life to come, but for this life now! His eternal, Kingdom life fills us in the here and now, transforming us into something beautiful – flawed and broken, yet being repaired – becoming who we were born to be… Because of Him we have hope. Because of who Jesus is – his beauty, his life, his death, his resurrection, his promises – we have hope. Because of him, everything has changed. And there’s no going back to the way things used to be.

He is risen, indeed.

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Visual Parables – Grace

A few weeks ago I was walking in downtown Rio. I had the afternoon free, and was taking advantage of it by visiting one of the free art exhibits at the Federal Justice Cultural Center. The featured artist, Sergio Chavez, uses cardboard, trash, and found objects as a medium to sculpt objects and scenes from the lives of the common people of Brazil. It’s beautiful, and I like it.* As I walked through and SAW what he made, I was reminded of the lines from U2’s song “Grace…”

~ “Grace finds goodness in everything… Grace finds beauty in everything… Grace makes beauty out of ugly things…”

I love the praxis of Sergio making art – beauty – out of trash.

Later that afternoon, I walked up Avenida Rio Branco, heading for a coffee shop and a quiet place to write. As I darted across one of the streets, dodging cars, bikes, trucks, taxis, and the occasional rabid pigeon (you might think that not being mammals, pigeons can’t get rabies… Let me just say you’ve never met Rio’s pigeons. Rats with wings… but I digress), I saw her walking ahead of me. I don’t remember what she was wearing, or much about what she looked like. The first thing I saw were the scars. Across half her neck. On one of her arms. Her back. Her leg. One of her cheeks, moving up the side of her face towards her temple. Thick, ropy scars that, though faded and softened with time, still traced livid tracks across her body.

I’ve always been attracted – maybe even captivated – by contrasts. It’s one of the things I love most about photography – and seeing the contrast of this young woman, her scars in tension with her poise, smile, and evident grace, was a thing of beauty. Her grace was beautiful – no self-consiousness, no covering up of her scars, but an acceptance and transcendence of them.

Our kids on the street have many scars – knives, broken glass, razors and rocks will slice through skin and muscle. Cars and busses, soccer games, fights, and abuse by drunken parents leave broken bones, sprained and swollen arms and legs, bruises dark and tender. And then there are the scars you can’t see – the scars of being unwanted, unloved, rejected by society, or just plain ignored. People are afraid of them. People don’t want them around. People pretend not to see them. Scars from those wounds last just as long.

Yet Grace takes these broken lives, and finds the beauty in them. We sit with them on the street because we love them. We break up fights because we love them. We bandage their wounds, listen to their stories, remember their birthdays… because we love. We want the best for them – to leave the streets, the drugs, the addictions and poor choices… because we love.

Ultimately, I am a creature of hope… I want to believe that as they soak up grace, change will come. I want to believe in redemption, in the future day when God will make all things new. Sometimes, I catch a glimpse of it… but I am still thirsty. I will keep walking towards the well of water that won’t run dry though. And maybe, one of these days, we’ll all find it together… Until then, such glimpses of grace like the girl with the scars and the smile help keep me living and loving…

May we find beauty – or learn to make beauty – out of everything as we learn to see through grace-stained eyes…

—–

*For more pictures of Sergio Chavez’s work, go here or here. For an article in English, with a bit of analysis of his work (as well as a bit of Paulo Freire-ian subtext, which brings joy to my heart) go here

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