On a walk last month, I spotted a beautiful scene: purple morning glories in bright bloom framing a rounded doorway. It stopped me mid-stride and I slowed to look more closely and take a picture. The blooming archway seemed magical to me, like it would lead to some other fairy world awash with more delights.
Four days later, I walked by the same spot, but this time the flowers had wilted and turned brown. Beauty spent, the scene was nowhere near as lovely. As I continued on my way, it occurred to me that someone—either the owner of the house or a gardener—had to plant and shape those flowers around the doorway, had to water them and prune them. Time and effort had gone into creating this beauty and in the end there was only a short time in which to enjoy it. As a random passerby, I’m glad they put in the effort. I hope the owners of the house drank deeply of the sight of all of those lovely blooms while they could.
The divine gift of beauty
In truth, life is full of beautiful moments.
“The wonder of the Beautiful is its ability to surprise us. With swift, sheer grace, it is like a divine breath that blows the heart open,” writes John O’Donahue in his book Beauty: The Invisible Embrace. He continues: “The pedestrian sequence of a working day breaks, a new door opens and the heart recognizes the silent majesty of the ordinary.”
These are the times when beautiful moments come to us unbidden and unexpected, like a divine gift. Often we leave these gifts unopened: we are consumed by the demands of the day, distracted in our rush, numbed by the soothing light of our screens, or impervious to the familiar.
Sometimes it takes the eyes of another to awaken us to the beauty in our lives, like an out-of-town guest who marvels at what’s blooming in our neighborhood, or an older friend who beholds our baby in absolute wonder. More often than not, we just need to tune our hearts to the “silent majesty of the ordinary,” which may be as simple as going outside and looking up:
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1 ESV)
But can beautiful moments be engineered? Can we make them happen? John O’Donahue contends that “Beauty cannot be forced.” But he also claims: “Everywhere there is tenderness, care and kindness, there is beauty.”
This brings me back to the owner of the house where I spotted the blooming doorway: although he could not force the flowers to multiply and open just so, he did cultivate the conditions in which beauty flourishes. Likewise, we can cultivate the conditions in which beauty flourishes. We can tend to the garden of our lives with kindness, care, and loving attention, and we can slow down enough to notice the gift of beauty in our lives and turn it back to praise in gratitude to God.
And when finding or cultivating beauty in our lives seems impossible—when all we can see is barren and rocky soil—let’s remember that God is with us anyway, that God moved into our neighborhood to redeem us and make all things new. In his book Beauty Will Save the World, Brian Zahnd notes:
“If the crucifixion of Christ can be made beautiful, then there is hope that all the ugliness of the human condition can be redeemed by its beauty.”
Even now, even in the shadow of suffering, pain, and general anxiety, beauty is a gift that is ours for the taking, the briefest of glimpses of a portal into the hope we have in Christ.
The bringers of beauty
Not only are we receivers of beauty, we are also givers of beauty. Isaiah 52:7 (NRSV) says:
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.””
How beautiful was Elizabeth’s loud cry upon greeting her cousin Mary, who was pregnant with the Son of God. (Luke 1:42)
How beautiful was the heart of the poor widow, who put her only penny in the temple treasury. (Mark 12:42)
How beautiful were the hands of the woman who served Jesus and his entourage upon being healed of her fever. (Luke 4:38-39)
How beautiful the lips of the woman who bathed the feet of Jesus with perfume and covered them with kisses. (Luke 7:38)
How beautiful were the feet of Mary, who ran to tell the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection that first Easter morning. (Matt. 28:8)
We bring beauty to others when our words and actions proclaim the good news of Jesus. This is done in a million easy ways, big and small, as we go about our ordinary days. When we listen before jumping to conclusions, when we bring a meal to a friend, when we leave a nice note for a co-worker, when we drop a friend off at the airport, when we sit in silence with someone in the throes of grief, when we offer grace instead of revenge, when we summon the last bit of our patience to handle a sibling squabble.
Any time we act with love in imitation of Jesus, we reflect God’s beauty to the world.
“Christianity as the ongoing expression of the Jesus story lived out in the lives of individuals and in the heart of society is a beauty that can redeem the world.” – Brian Zahnd
We might not think that our everyday activities can contribute to the beauty and flourishing of God’s kingdom, but they can! As we live out the grace, mercy, love, and kindness that is freely given to us by God, we can be agents of God’s beautiful renewal—even here, even now.
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