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Tag: beauty

seeing gray

seeing gray

Writing in Sojouorners magazine (In the prison-industrial complex, is there hope for redemption?), Nancy Hastings Sehested, a Baptist minister and prison chaplain, describes a North Carolina maximum-security prison this way:

Colorful flowers mark the path to the gatehouse. Then the stripping away begins in earnest. It is a gray day every day in this prison. Gray walls, gray floors, and gray ceilings. The gray uniforms worn by the men can fade their faces into obscurity. The blue uniforms of the staff can create the same effect. Holding a gaze is crucial in seeing the person beyond the clothing. A simple “hello” can seem like a subversive act in a place where everyone is defined by role.

Now I know that prisons are not meant to be “cushy” places, and that justice — at least in part — is about punishment and the deserved forfeiture of rights and privileges. Nevertheless, after reading Sehested’s description, I found myself wondering what gray on gray on gray does to the human soul?

In creating a lifeless and colorless and despair-inducing environment, what do we hope to accomplish? It seems to me that such an environment would readily foster nihilistic thoughts and desperate acts and a soul-killing sense of resignation, hopelessness, and resentment.

I know what the colors and scents of a garden can do for my soul. I know how stepping outside and watching the ebb and flow of tree limbs in the wind or hearing the chatter of birds or taking my dog for a walk in the early morning sunlight can lift my spirits.

Justice — at least in part — is also about rehabilitation and restoration, and it seems to me that those things that can lift spirits and renew a love for life and restore a sense of beauty could provide invaluable aid in turning inmates lives around. I am no corrections expert, but I don’t see how we make a man or woman more human or more hospitable by sequestering them in an inhuman and inhospitable environment.

Within those prison walls, we literally have a captive audience. What a teaching opportunity! What an opportunity — not to confirm the fatalistic notion that the spoils go to the strongest and the “baddest” — but to show another way to measure value, another way to enjoy beauty, another way to satisfy the longings of the human soul. Only God can finally satisfy those longing, but it is the colors and scents and textures and vistas of all of creation that point us to God.

Maybe colorful flowers should mark the paths inside the prison walls, too …

beauty, and life, take time

beauty, and life, take time

I really liked today’s entry at inward/outward … so I am taking the liberty of reprinting it here for you!

By Macrina Wiederkehr

Life unfolds
a petal at a time

The beauty of the process is crippled
when I try to hurry growth.
Life has its inner rhythm
which must be respected.
It cannot be rushed or hurried.

Like daylight stepping out of darkness,
like morning creeping out of night,
life unfolds slowly a petal at a time
like a flower opening to the sun,

God’s call unfolds
a Word at a time

A disciple is not made in a hurry.
Slowly I become like the One
to whom I am listening.

Life unfolds
a petal at a time
like you and I
becoming followers of Jesus,
discipled into a new way of living
deeply and slowly.

Be patient with life’s unfolding petals.
If you hurry the bud it withers.
If you hurry life it limps.
Each unfolding is a teaching
a movement of grace filled with silent pauses
breathtaking beauty
tears and heartaches.

Life unfolds
a petal at a time
deeply and slowly.

May it come to pass!

love and war

love and war

We were visited by a major winter storm in Iowa this weekend, and our Saturday and Sunday plans (which were many!) were cancelled. We enjoyed some good down time, a fire in the fireplace, and we watched two movies, two among the list of movies we have been wanting to preview. The two movies could not have been more different!

The one was about beauty: the beauty of love, of loyalty, of humility, of service, of human creativity, of the smallest details of the natural world. The other was about ugliness: the ugliness of war, the ugliness it does to people, the ugliness it makes people do. The one was lyrical in its storytelling; the other disturbing.

The Scent of Green Papaya cover imageThe first movie we watched was The Scent of Green Papaya. It was made in 1993 in France and is set in mid-twentieth-century Viet Nam. The film won the Camera d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

It tells the story of Miu, a girl perhaps ten years old when we first meet her. She comes to Saigon to live as a household servant with a family of six: a father and mother, three sons, and the father’s mother. Through Miu’s eyes we see the pain and grief and anger and longing of the members of the family, but we also see the beauties of the world they inhabit, beauties celebrated and appreciated in intimate detail: thin strips of fruit shaved from a papaya, an ant carrying off a kernel of rice, the milk dripping from the stem from which the papaya was cut, the crickets Miu keeps as her “pets,” fried meats and vegetables tenderly arranged on a bed of rice, frogs hopping through a rain-soaked garden. The photography — colors, textures, perspectives — is exquisite.

The last part of the film is set ten years later when Miu moves to a new household, to serve there a young musician from a wealthy family, a friend of the oldest son of the family she had been serving. Slowly, quietly, tenderly, there unfolds a new story, the story of one who comes to recognize the beauties in her …

The Ground Truth cover imageThe second film we saw was The Ground Truth. It is a documentary made in 2006, chronicling the psychological wounds of returning veterans of the war in Iraq. It provides them a stage to tell of the horrors they have witnessed and the horrors they have done and the horrors of what the war has done to them, in their own words. It is disturbing to see the war through their eyes, to understand what it takes to make a man or a woman into an effective soldier, an effective killing machine, and to feel their shame and their loss and their struggle to live anything like a normal life on their return home.

the face in the mirror

the face in the mirror

You should review the short documentary film made by a New York City high school student: A Girl Like Me. A September 19 editorial by Leonard Pitts led me to the site. As he writes, Be warned: if you have a heart, the new doll test will break it.

Our culture does a very poor job at recognizing and affirming real beauty. I believe beauty is there to be found, in many different sizes and shapes … and colors. So many fail to see beauty when they look into a mirror — or look into their own souls — because they have been convinced that they are too fat, too dark, not athletic enough, not smart enough, not good enough.

And God looked at all that God had made, and God saw that it was good!

a view through the trees

a view through the trees

ocean view through the trees on Monhegan Island

I like this photograph.

It is different from most of my other Monhegan photos — no stunning cliffs rising from the sea, no waves exploding on the rocks guarding the shoreline, no colorful lilies or picturesque lighthouses or interesting people — just this view through the trees.

Is it a photograph of the sea or is the sea just the background? Is our attention drawn by the dead tree in the foreground or do we see past the tree? Is it the dark lines of the dead tree or the bold greens of the living trees or orange of the lichen-covered rocks, the expansive sea in the distance or the intimate path in the near corner, that makes this photograph beautiful?

It is all these things. It is the way all the pieces of the photograph “fit” together and don’t fit together. It is the juxtaposition of life and death, of soft and hard, of light and dark, of sharp and smooth, of intimacy and immensity, that makes this photograph engaging … and beautiful. It is beautiful because it shows something real, this particular piece of earth as it is, as it has become, not something put together or composed by the artist, but something already there. Here is the artistry … of God: death and life, immediacy and transcendence, something that exists wholly oblivious to and careless of me, and yet of which, when I am present and when I pay attention, I am a part.

This is what we are like, too — products of God’s artistry, a strange juxtaposition of the heavenly and the mundane, full of contradictions, but beautiful as we are, beautiful because we are, beautiful because we are from God.

making beauty

making beauty

(Originally published Saturday, December 31, 2005)

I have been doing a bit of ranting lately … about the horrors of the death penalty, about the scandal of an administration that is reluctant to expressly disavow torture, about the shortsighted greed that would rather despoil an untouched wilderness than spend the time and money to develop alternative energy sources or to find ways to use our present energy resources more efficiently.

But I want to end the year on a positive note! Because in spite of all its ills and all our failings, the world in which we live is filled with much that is beautiful, most of it brought into being by the God who brought the universe into being, but some of it brought into being by us, creatures made to be like God. We are very much like God when we are making beauty. In just these last few days I have had the privilege of enjoying great beauty …

… the beauty of a sanctuary lighted by a hundred handheld candles and filled with the sound of a hundred voices singing of the dawn of redeeming grace.

… the beauty of the aroma of poached pears, a dish new to me prepared by our eldest son.

… the beauty of language, powerful and intimate, words describing feelings, words describing grief, words crafted by Joan Didion to document and make sense of a year of grieving the sudden death of her husband, beautiful because even words of grief reveal the wonder and mystery and majesty of human love.

… the beauty of giving gifts and receiving gifts when the one giving and the one receiving both know, and know each other know, that it isn’t about the gift!

We are at our best when we are making beauty. When we praise beauty and preserve beauty and especially when we make beauty, we show ourselves to be true children of the God who delights in beauty …