There are days when it’s hard to read the headlines without weeping or becoming angry or feeling anxious. So maybe now is a good time for some more thoughts on beauty.
Hiding in an attic during World War II, Anne Frank wrote in her diary:
I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains…My advice is: Go outside, to the fields, enjoy nature and the sunshine, go out and try to recapture happiness in yourself and in God. Think of all the beauty that’s still left in and around you and be happy!
It’s true. Beauty is always there, waiting for us to notice—not as an escape from reality, but as a kind of antidote to the tragedy and ugliness.
It’s as if nature is a teacher who wants to teach us something important, and she’s just waiting for us “anxious, restless children” to calm down and pay attention!
The sky is waiting to teach us about wonder and mystery. The ocean wants to teach us about depth and peace and inner power. The lonely trees waiting for Spring want to teach us about patience and hope. The birds want to teach us about freedom and adventure and celebration of life. The squirrels want to teach us about playfulness. And all the human faces…they can teach us something about love.
There’s a story about a sermon the Buddha delivered. The monks gathered, awaiting his words. But the Buddha said nothing. He only held up a flower.
One monk was paying attention. He looked at the flower…and achieved enlightenment.
No doubt there is a kind of enlightenment that comes from pausing to see, to “breathe in” the beauty around us. Appreciating beauty doesn’t eliminate tragedy, of course. But I do think it is a healing balm for our souls. I think it can help protect us from things like bitterness, cynicism, drudgery and despair.
As Max Ehrmann reminds us at the end of his essay, Desiderata:
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it’s still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
Guest Post by Landon Saunders
Okay, I’m confessing it right up front: I love human beings. Now you know what lies at the center of my heart. I don’t always succeed, but that is my ultimate quest.
But I’ve chosen love as my bottom line for how I view human beings—all of them together, and one-by-one.
I know we have a tendency to put human beings in various categories: kinda good, good, really good, kinda bad, bad, really bad. You may even find someone has put you in one of those categories! I guess we’re going to have some of that.
I’ve observed that even dogs do better when loved. They wag their tails. Human beings do better when loved. I won’t comment on tails!
I’ve travelled in much of the world. I’ve learned how very much our world needs love. Everywhere. Our nation, our communities, our homes need—all need love.
And, I say this joyously, human beings are made to love. When they love, they’re at their best.
If you’ve been dealing with things that have left your love a bit ragged around the edges, remind yourself of how resilient love is. Reaffirm your great capacity to love. And make this a better year.
You may even find that you wag…oh, never mind!
Guest Post by Landon Saunders
Simone Weil said, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
To be fully present is one of the greatest gifts one human being can give to another.
How often we are with others but not really present—even with those we love.
Some of my most favorite memories of time with my mother were the times she was ironing. With her many chores this was one time when she was in one place long enough for me to draw close. I would lie on the floor, taking in the smell of the damp, sprinkled clothing, but glorying in having this time alone…with my mother. To this day I don’t fully understand how important this time was to who I am today. She was ironing, yes, but she was with me…most of all.
Such presence and attention open wider places in the heart. They free us from the narrower focus on self, fears, and doubts. Such time with my mother helped me accept myself, to become a more deeply rooted and grounded human being.
Surely, being fully human means being able to give this “rarest and purest” gift of presence to another—to a child, to a friend, to a neighbor.
Paying deep attention to another human being is a gift…that never quits giving.