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Beguiled by Beauty: Week 6 “From Beauty to Compassion”
Rev. Carla Wilks at Mount Seymour United Church July 12, 2020
Over the last six weeks of this series, Beguiled by Beauty, we have been exploring the idea that we are part of the beauty of creation, created for a world of diversity and goodness. We were made inherently worthy, not by our doing, but by our simply being. Our beauty comes from our being – from our sacred worth. We have been invited to remember this, and to recognize it in others and in all the beauty of creation.
At the end of March, as news of the death and economic collapse in the world was filling our newscasts and our lives, the actor from the TV Show, The Office, John Krasinksy started a web-series called, “Some Good News.” The feel good show had millions of viewers and was quickly popular. It was only eight episodes, and was over by May, but while it lasted, it was a light-hearted reminder of all the good things happening in the world. Usually in each episode Krasinsky would share some stories of health care heroes around the US, he shared some of his favourite creativity from that week – music or art. And he did an episode that was a virtual prom to celebrate graduating students.
When much of the news was so bad, it was fun to just watch his show and see the good news stories. It feels good to hear good news during hard times. Right? Sometimes! But sometimes good news can be hard to receive.
Think about a time when you were struggling and needed validation of your struggles, but instead someone pointed out the silver lining or told you about an experience that they had that was worse.
Between my two daughters I had two miscarriages. I remember the comments that I got at the time that were well-meaning but so unhelpful. “oh well, you can have another. Oh well, at least you have Angela. Oh well – when your next child is born you’ll be glad this happened because you wouldn’t imagine your life without that child.”
All those things were true… and at the time, I also knew those things to be true in my future – but at the time, I just needed to be sad and I needed to grieve those losses, and what I needed from the people around me was to sit with me in my grief. Of course I knew there were much worse things – but I just had to be in that place for a little while.
A friend who had experienced similar losses to me, sent me a single red rose inside a glass bowl shaped vase. For me – that one thoughtful and beautiful gift helped me in so many ways. It represented for me, the beauty of life that had just been lost, and helped me to sit in that moment of grief, and then move forward. Of course now – 15 years later, I AM thankful for those experiences, because I can’t imagine life without my youngest daughter, Heather. From this point in time, I can see that good news and feel that good news.
The good news in the book of Isaiah is richer and deeper than any of these things. The author is talking about the restoration of God’s people: deep and lasting peace, reconciliation, salvation. A good news that spans generations and nations. The good news of the way of God, the way of love, the way of peace.
Reflecting on today’s theme, From Beauty to Compassion and Justice it brought me back to last week’s theme somewhat. If we see the inherent worth in others – see them as beautiful just for who they are, then we are brought on a more equal ground to them. We are not measuring them by their accomplishments, simply by their existence. When others are measured by what they have done or by what they have not done, or by what they have done wrong, or by what they have not done the way that *I* would have done it, then that often influences the value that we attach to them – their value is clouded by our judgment and our expectations.
But when their value is measured by their existence alone, then we are better able to see them as a beautiful part of creation, and therefore feel compassion for them when they are the target of injustice.
Wendy Farley the author of the book that inspired this series, says “If you are nourished by the beauty of the world and the goodness of God, you will have more resource for accepting the truth of suffering and injustice and responding to it in whatever ways are appropriate.”
If we are more able to see beauty around us, then we might be more able to see the value and the beauty in those we might typically see as “other.” If we see them – really see them, then we can feel greater compassion and feel more connected to them and respond to their suffering.
Each of us will be more alive to some kinds of suffering than others. We will be called into consolation and resistance in ways appropriate to our abilities and circumstances. Howard Thurman was one of the mystical fathers of the civil rights movement. He was a Baptist minister, an author, a philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader. His theology of radical non-violence influenced and shaped a generation of civil rights activists, and he was a key mentor to leaders in the movement, including Martin Luther King Jr. Howard Thurman, said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Courageous beauty will awaken us to the world’s needs, but our unique gifts, energy and passion will guide us to the work best fitting to us.
A woman who found her passion in life, Rosemarie Freeney Harding worked for more than 40 years in movements for radical social change in the US… for the freedom movement and also in national and international peace and justice struggles. Rosemarie Harding identifies beauty and joyfulness as essential to her civil rights work. She says that this capacity for beauty was instilled in her from her childhood. She says: “As I think about my family I ask myself, ‘What helped them survive? What was it that gave them the capacity to navigate their way through so many obstacles?’ It had something to do, I’m sure, with knowing they were of great value. No matter what messages we got from the outside world, someone at home was always telling us how beautiful we were, how intelligent, how talented.”
This awareness of one another’s beauty in its purposeless joy is the seedling for the birth of compassion and justice. The celebration of this beauty of beings, their communities and ecosystems, cannot exist without also mourning the assaults on them. Death comes to all things but murder, cruelty, meaningless destruction or greedy exploitation are painful interruptions of the dignity and beauty of life.
Modern Christianity often emphasizes that one is a Christian by believing certain things. But for 2,000 years Christians have also affirmed that it is possible not only to believe but to live the path of transformation. This path is a process that empties us of obstacles to our love. It is a path that recognizes the beauty of all beings. This path of love cherishes the well-being of others – all others – as one’s deepest desire. This path helps us to embrace the gospel and Christ’s teachings by embracing our commitment to seek justice for all. A contemplative way of life is one that helps us on this path to deepen these capacities, even as it embraces with gentleness and patience all of the experiences of life that seem alien to these desires.
One thing that I have really appreciated about this series is how it has caused me to notice the beauty around me more often. In Burnaby in the springtime the City of Burnaby gets volunteer organizations to come in and plant their eco-sculptures, which are different shaped forms, that are then covered in plants. There are different animals and shapes. I assumed that they hadn’t been done this year because usually they are planted in April, and everything was shut down by then. The other day I was driving from North Burnaby to South Burnaby, a route I hadn’t driven for a while, and I saw a few of them out, and one was a giant heart, and I saw horse shaped ones just down the road from the Burnaby Village Museum Carrousel.
This small thing just seemed so much bigger this year, knowing that even in the middle of a pandemic, beauty was a priority for our city. At the same time I also noticed the traffic signal control boxes. In Burnaby, years ago they were constantly being covered in graffiti, so they started wrapping the boxes with a beautiful image of flowers or forest or some kind of nature photograph. Not only did it almost eliminate the graffiti problem, but it also is beautiful. Out of destruction came beauty.
Almost every week in our Zoom coffee hour chats, someone will tell us about an experience or a place where they noticed beauty during the week, where they might not have noticed it before, or where they saw it in an unexpected place. What a gift those conversations have been.
As we now wrap up this series today, I invite you to keep noticing beauty. If there was a particular practice that we invited you to try over the last 6 weeks, that was helpful or meaningful for you, then keep doing it. For when we practice noticing the beauty around us, we empty ourselves of the judgment that may be blocking our path to experiencing greater compassion, justice, love and beauty. Thanks be to God, who is beguiled by the beauty of ALL creation, even us. God loves us and sees us as beautiful – and calls us to do the same… for ALL of creation, for the beauty of the earth. Amen.