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Beguiled by Beauty: Week 5 “The Beauty of a World Without a ‘Why’”
Song of Songs/Solomon 4:1-7
Rev. Carla Wilks at Mount Seymour United Church July 5, 2020
This morning’s reading is from the Song of Songs, which is also referred to as the Song of Solomon, because it was thought to be written by Solomon. A reading from the Song of Solomon only appears once in the three-year lectionary cycle of Bible readings that many churches around the world use for their weekly readings. The reading appears in the rotation in late summer, once every three years, and is not this reading, but one from chapter 2 instead.
The Song of Solomon is a unique section of the Bible, because it is a love song or love poetry between two lovers. It is thought to also portray by example, the intimacy with which God loves us.
In this particular passage that we just heard, the beauty with which the writer speaks of the subject – “so beautiful, my dearest” is the same way that God sees each of us – as beautiful.
The theme for today in our Beguiled by Beauty theme is “The Beauty of a World Without a Why.” The reading today when I first read it, seems like a bit of an intrusion into the love story of two people – not your typical Sunday morning Bible reading! But reading it within the context of this series, gave me a different perspective. The writer speaks of “my dearest” with such love and tenderness – seeing her beauty for what it is, with no conditions or inhibitions.
And this is what is meant by the theme of today – to appreciate beauty for its divine goodness, not for its purpose or usefulness. To explain this a little better – remember the last time you were awed by something in nature.
A few years ago I got a beautiful clematis for my birthday. As many of you know, my favourite colour is purple, and this was a purple double clematis. It is so beautiful. And because of the wonders of technology, I’m going to show you a photo of it, so you can enjoy it too. The clematis that I have in my garden is not for any particular use – other than to enjoy its beauty.
Or when you see a beautifully shaped tree, you might notice the beautiful shape and how the leaves fill out the spaces between the tall and winding branches that reach up for the sky. Unless you were a cabinet maker, your initial thought might not be “wow that tree would make a glorious dining room table!” But instead – look at that beautiful tree.
The beauty for the sake of beauty that we see in nature, is not measured by its usefulness. Its worth comes from its existence alone.
This is the case for us too. Our beauty and our worth in God’s eyes, comes from our existence. In a world where we strive for successes and to reach personal goals and achieve more and more, it is difficult to remember that we are worthy and we are loved and we are beautiful, simply because we are.
We often measure our own worth when we accomplish certain things, when we fulfil certain obligations or when we are productive, or whatever our categories for being worthy are, our worthiness comes from something we do to merit worth. It isn’t that these things are not important, but our life with God is “Without a Why.”
We are simply worthy in the eyes of God because we have been created. Our lives are beautiful as we are. This is a difficult concept to grasp – especially as people who feel worth because of the things we accomplish. This is deep in our DNA – when in society we work hard, and our to-do lists are seemingly endless.
For many people that I have talked to over the last few months, this has been a gift of the slowing down of life during the pandemic. When for many of us, our days are no longer measured by their outcomes – the outings we had or the things we accomplished – instead our days are marked by the relationships we have tended or the everyday household activities that we have done with more thoughtfulness or care. Taking the time to notice the simple pleasures in life.
Dr. Wendy Farley – the author of the book on which this series is based, talks about our passions in life, whether it be our vocation or a cause that we support. She talks about releasing expectations about ourselves or others. She talks about how we don’t control the outcome of what we do. We don’t control what other people do. We can make an effort in the causes we support, but we don’t control what happens or how someone receives it.
It is a purity of vocation, where you do what you are called to do, simply because it is good to do it, and because you have a love and an energy for the work.
You do it with great heart but without anxiety.
This is very difficult because we do the work and support the cause because we want the outcome. If we didn’t want the outcome, we wouldn’t be doing the work. But we don’t control the outcome, so we let go of what we can’t control. We can hope for the outcome, but let go of the need for a particular outcome, which then releases the anxiety from the work, and allows us to do it with our full heart and passion.
Dr. Farley used the example of women who were fighting for the right to vote. Many of the women who fought for this right never lived to see the outcome of women voting. But without their efforts, it likely would not have happened in the time that it did.
This reminded me of a movie that I watched with my daughters last Saturday. It was called The Hate You Give. It is based on a book by the same name, and it is about a girl who witnesses her friend being shot and killed by police. The story that follows unfolds not unlike how we would expect, based on actual events in our own reality and memories. There was an uprising of support, with protests in the streets.
After the movie, I was reflecting with my kids about the movie and our thoughts, and my daughter asked when the movie was made – it was released two years ago in 2018. She commented that many of the images of the protests could have been taken from the last few weeks. They appeared identical. So we talked about how this was not a new problem. It made me think of Dr. Farley’s comments about our passion for the work not being tied to an outcome. Of course we hope for the outcome, but also can see the inherent worth and value in the work, in working for justice. If our passion for the work is quantified by the results, we might feel as if we have failed or we are not good enough or didn’t try hard enough. But if we release ourselves from the need for a particular outcome, we can put our whole heart and passion into the work, without limits.
Our contemplative life is the same. We are invited to work with focus and passion, releasing ourselves from the expectation that we control or even fully understand what happens.
I remember when I first tried meditation, I felt like a total failure. I would try – and I would have so many thoughts going on in my mind, and eventually I would give up, because some of those thoughts were my to do list of things I should be doing instead of meditating. And then I kept practicing. And I came to the meditation group at the church, where Sharon kept reminding us that when thoughts enter our mind, just notice them and focus again on our breath. Those thoughts went away, and I was able to appreciate the practice for the sake of the practice. It isn’t that I would not have those thoughts – but I would learn to notice them and set them aside without them being the focus.
Awakening to this “without a why” of creation has no purpose other than itself. It is to recognize and participate in what is – not to change it, interpret it, care for it, adjust it. Being awake is to participate in the flow of what is as it exists for itself.
We are loved and valued and seen as worthy by God because we have been created as part of the wonder of creation, not because of what we have done or have not done, by what we have accomplished, by how well we pray. We can release those expectations of ourselves and others, release ourselves from the “Why” of our existence, and know that God sees us as beautiful children of God, whether or not we think we deserve it.
Thanks be to God for calling us “my dearest” and loving us without conditions.