Beauty, Beauty Everywhere by Stephanie Jordan
I landed in New York about 12 hours before Winter Storm Stella was expected to arrive in the city, packing with her somewhere between 12 to 20 inches of snow. I hunkered down in my Times Square hotel room that evening and expected to awaken to a snowpocalypse in the morning.
I pulled back the curtains in my hotel room before the sun had risen the next morning and looked down the forty stories between me and the neon glow of Times Square to discover one of the world's most highly-trafficked, bustling sites completely still. Stella was standing over the city, dusting the world below her with mounds of snow, like powdered sugar piled on a beignet.
The stillness and silence were magnificent. Schools closed, traffic ceased and New York City surrendered to this blizzard if only for an instant. By late morning, the magnitude of Stella was realized to be less than forecasters had predicted, the snow was scooped from the streets and placed in giant mounds against the curb. And life kept moving. Agendas and scheduled meetings resumed. And the pristine white snow turned gray with street grime.
I made one deliberate stop before I left the city. I wanted to experience the pools at the 9/11 memorial and take in the views from the top of the Freedom Tower, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. From this elevation, the beauty required reverence. The remarkable sight of what God and man had created together. How it all appeared so still and silent from this high-level perspective. And I found the parallels to my own life so obvious. How on ground level, amidst my agenda - my personal muck of gray snow - I can so easily miss the big picture of the beauty surrounding me.
A quote from Parker Palmer reads, "It takes no special talent to look around our world and point out things that are numbing, depressing, or death-dealing. But becoming aware of what's good, true and beautiful demands a discipline: we must open our eyes, minds and hearts..."
Grief was the avenue that changed the lens through which I view the world. Most likely that is because I was stripped of my life's guarantees. What I assumed would never and could never happen actually did. And when you're robbed of that security, you become a seeker of truth, of beauty, of anything real that you feel you can count on and cling to for the time being.
I began to notice little things. A small little red bird that was always perched in the oleander bushes outside my dining room window. Even when I couldn't see him, I could hear his song, and I felt embraced by my Creator in those moments. He was a small, beautiful delight sent just for me. To be with me and remind me that I was not alone in my pain and loss. I've heard this described as the beauty of broken realness.
I'm thankful for that season of brokenness, while simultaneously hating the circumstances that landed me there. But because my heart was so open and my spirit was seeking, it was easy to realize the beauty all around.
Poet John O'Donohue describes beauty as "that in the presence of which we feel more alive." And in so many ways, that red bird, his beauty and his song kept me feeling alive. Yet I still wonder, would I ever have noticed him before? Had he been there all along, and I just needed stillness to enter my life so that I could finally see him?
Portland-based artist Scott Erikson recently presented to our church his multi-media storytelling experience titled "We are Not Troubled Guests" that discusses when pain and faith collide. When we question God, when the Bible's answers to our problems don't make sense, and how all of that can be a transformative journey that changes the way we see our world and our place in it.
Scott's story challenges us to "call out the light" from within ourselves and to see the light in others. Again, that choosing to see beauty rather than the ugliness in the world. To call out light rather than living in the dark. So the question for us all exists, are we creating beauty in the world or just more suffering?
Makoto Fujimara writes, "... a culture that downplays the pursuit of beauty also loses its appetite for truth and goodness."
While we can't live in a state of grief or at that level of hyper-awareness - nor would we want to, most likely - I have found it vital to pursue beauty if even in the smallest ways. As my friend and member of my church family Sarah Duet Reedstrom recently shared in a sermon, "Traditional forms of art like paintings, music, dance, etc. can absolutely be beautiful, but so too are the everyday things that bring you more alive - being in nature, a good conversation, our loved ones, an experience of healing or forgiveness or reconciliation, hospitable homes, good design, quality athletic performance, etc."
I believe, like Sarah, that we can find beauty everywhere and in all things, if we choose to pursue it.
(I would like to say thank you to Sarah Duet Reedstrom for sharing her thoughts, sermon notes and personal pursuit of beauty with me. I hold it close and have learned so much recently from all she has shared.)