Identifying Beauty

"We take beautiful walks together. it is very beautiful here, if one only has an open and simple eye without any beams in it. But if one has that it is beautiful everywhere." Van Gogh

But Jesus said to them, "Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me."

Here is my task as I run out these few days to Christmas. I will intentionally try to keep my eyes peeled for things of beauty.

I’ve tried this before. On the surface it seems a simple enough task. But keeping a look out for beauty is like craning your neck to peer around a tall person for an entire theatrical production. And even though you want to see the play, your muscles give out and for much of the time, you simply resign yourself to shadows and half silhouettes.

But the longing remains. The simple impulse toward beauty is in all of us. We sense that we have been created for beauty and we are haunted by a hazy memory that we too, are beautiful. And we also sense that beauty has to do with truth, that it will not lie. We see that this is why beauty is not about pretty things, and has nothing to do with glamour.

I try to follow this sense, this memory, this impulse, deeper, beyond mere appreciation. But I find beams in my eyes.

I recall a few years ago during one of my "intentional weeks" a simple thing finally helped me, a grace really. It was a phone message from a lady who introduced herself as Jean McKenzie, 73 years old, and "a bit handicapped."

She said she couldn’t do much for Hope Mission (where I work), but said a poem had come to her, as she put it, "from scraps of paper lying around". She hoped it might encourage people at the Mission. She read her poem into my voice mail. It spoke about how some days are so empty but how in those times we need to "let brightness and colour into our lives". She read how, God herself gives birth to each day and in the beauty of these autumn days, she reaches out and touches us. Jean spoke about God’s painters making us pictures. Her poem ended with an exhortation to "inch our way forward," feeling God’s love as we approached her, and that as we did this, the world would be filled with warmth.

I saved the message and put the receiver down. Later, when I played the message for a couple other people, what came up was the fact that Jean had referred to God as a she.

Beauty is found in a moment or just as easily lost in a moment. I wondered at how much beauty I have missed through my own inattentiveness.

img_0978When I was in my high school years, living on the farm, I recall on more than one occasion, as I stepped out of the house into the still air of an early evening, hearing the tractor pulling the cultivator a half mile or more away, and then I hearing my father’s voice riding higher waves, singing clear above the roar of the Cockshutt tractor. He sang what he always sang in the middle of a field… this old hymn, How Great Thou Art.

In the self preoccupation of my youth I was deaf to the beauty of this worship that brought together soil and spirit, diesel and the divine.

I was as blind as the disciples who were troubling the woman for pouring precious ointment on the head of Christ. My dad, was doing a beautiful thing to Christ.

Beauty calls to us but never asserts itself. Because of this, deeper beauty is found only as we move imaginatively and mindfully, and as we walk in humility. Beauty of lasting value must be unearthed, mined through the divining rod of attentiveness, humility and a transfigured imagination.

And if, at times, our eyes are clear enough so that we can move and walk in this way, if, at times, our eyes grow accustomed to the light of a different world, we not only heighten the beauty of God’s creation, we point beyond ourselves becoming conduits of beauty for God. And we touch a world where everything is beautiful. A world where beauty comes from "scraps of paper lying around".

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  1. this is great writing

    I enjoyed it very much

    aspects of your experience remind me of C.S. Lewis’ description of
    his encounter with
    beauty and the transcendent in Surprised by Joy


    Annie Dillard’s being overwhelmed by beauty and light on her
    Pilgramage at Tinker Creek (with fewer frogs having their guts sucked out by giant water beetles)

  2. Hi Steve
    I’d like to share some of your stuff on my blog but i don’t see a ‘blog this’ button or its equivalent on the page. Am i missing it or is that feature not avialable on this service?

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