Jul 30 2011

Creating Space for Beauty

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I’ve found that experiencing beauty as a regular part of my day requires cultivating a welcoming space: physical space, such as having a special area to display something I find beautiful or art supplies at the ready for creating; space in my schedule to intentionally notice beauty, such as walking to a look-out, taking my camera on an urban hike, hand writing a letter, or sharing a meal and seeing the beauty of a friend; and mental space, where I release behaviors and thoughts which clutter my head and blind my eyes to joy, and instead look at life with a gaze of gratitude.

When I invest energy in looking with a grateful eye on all that is beautiful, small things and experiences especially, it balances me and helps me see life as a whole, not just what is painful or difficult in the moment.

When I intentionally cultivate space for daily beauty, I find that any energy invested multiplies exponentially. Beauty is nourished by beauty.

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Awhile ago, I wrote about seeing a lovely cottage and garden near my apartment, and how sad I was, knowing that owning such a place is many years down the road. After pouring out my desire to God, it became clear that I had a choice: live in sadness and scarcity, looking longingly toward a future dream, or make space to be inspired by the real beauty of that garden and to cultivate a similar beauty in my own life.

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Making space for beauty, or really anything, is difficult if we keep a death grip on one vision or image of what must fill the space.

Instead, if we clear the space and then let beauty breathe into it (in-spire it), what fits our particular life and situation can grow organically.

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We make space for the possibility of beauty. Rather than making demands, we invite, welcome, practice hospitality.

For me, after seeing the cottage garden, inviting beauty meant taking time to clean up my balcony and simply sit, allowing a vision of beauty for that space to superimpose itself on reality.

Clearing mental space helped me feel: my hands were itching to get into dirt and to nurture growing life. I realized I didn’t want a ready-made garden, but to start from scratch.

Then, after planting the seeds, patience was necessary to nurture the space, as I waited weeks for any sign of life and then more weeks until flowers bloomed.

Now, when I look out on my balcony, I see the beauty of that cottage garden, but in a form perfect for my situation. The bees buzz, butterflies flutter, and hummingbirds greet me in the morning. A bit of Eden, four storeys up.

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Gardens are all through scripture, places of growth and healing.  A garden at the beginning when all things were new, the garden of Gethesmane when tears flowed and angels soothed, a garden for the tomb when the world held its breath. Even for the resurrection, in the garden, Jesus greeted is beloved friend, and what could happen but, “She thought he was the gardener.”  So true.

And finally, finally, the end and a new beginning: a Garden around a Tree in center of the Beautiful City.

That final glorious Day will come, but the greening, growing beauty of that Day can in-spire our days now.

Clear some space, welcome Beauty, wait and see.

What is a beauty that captures your heart?

This week, clear some space, in your physical surroundings, in your schedule, and in your thoughts for this beauty to find a home.

No need to fill the space, just let it breathe.

What vision reveals itself?

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Jul 29 2011

Friday Florilegium

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I’ve listened to and sung this hymn for years, but recently, it finally took up residence in that deep space of my heart where only a few songs gain entrance.

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

This is my Father’s world, dreaming, I see His face.
I ope my eyes, and in glad surprise cry, “The Lord is in this place.”
This is my Father’s world, from the shining courts above,
The Beloved One, His Only Son,
Came—a pledge of deathless love.

This is my Father’s world, should my heart be ever sad?
The lord is King—let the heavens ring. God reigns—let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world. Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod.
No place but is holy ground.

This is my Father’s world. I walk a desert lone.
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze God makes His glory known.
This is my Father’s world, a wanderer I may roam
Whate’er my lot, it matters not,
My heart is still at home.

(Rev. Maltbie Babcock, 1901, wrote this song inspired by a place he would hike in Lockport, NY)

Friday Florilegium 1


Jul 28 2011

Hidden Abundance

In both Anne of Avonlea and Little Women there are similar scenes I find beautiful: the poignant moments Anne and Jo decide to write about what they love. Sitting at a candle-lit desk, the sounds of the house stilled in sleep, Jo gets out a clean sheet of paper and simply begins. The pages stack up over time and are finally tied together with ribbon (yes, the ultimate romantic touch) and sent away.

The message is clear: write what you love, let it go, and leave everything else to off-stage resolution.

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My most recent response to questions about my dissertation has been to cite total number of pages written: 55.  The page-count mantra is more me telling myself, “Look! You’re almost a third of the way through!”

Since I’m handwriting this 1st draft, the slow accumulation of a stack of pages also connects me to my writing heroines.  I wonder if my adviser would appreciate me sending her a tied, handwritten draft.

Oh, right. For a moment I forgot it’s the 21st century.

But still, still, even with some sprinkles of writing romance, I’ve wrestled with a (perceived) loss of words (and loss of interest in them), words that came so easily 10 years ago, words and joy that went missing after exams and the often barren environment of doctoral education. Words I betrayed by turning a harsh and condemning gaze upon them, judging them not good enough.

TS Elliott says that words crack under the weight of meaning. What about the weight of expectations?

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The words come from my heart, and my heart went quiet in the face of so much self-criticism.

But, I’ve been reminded quite clearly today, my words are not so dammed as I’ve believed. (Ah, the revealing nature of word choice.)

My dear friend Doug said something to me last week that I took to heart: Don’t focus on your weaknesses, don’t try to change them.  Focus on your strengths.

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I got out my journals–the writing project I do without even thinking about it as writing–and, factoring in page size and a conservative estimate of handwritten words per page, I’ve written over 130 pages since January.

Love, frustration, wrestling, friendship, joy, sadness.  The story of a life.

Easily 3000 pages since I began in 1986.

I’ve spent so much time focused on scarcity, I missed the abundance.

The words are still there. They never left.

What changed was only my perception of them.

What abundance longs to be noticed in your life?  What gift do you ignore because it is like breathing? What strength is inviting you to give it some loving attention?


Jul 27 2011

Night bus companions

I got on the 71 in the University District after an enjoyable dinner with my friend Julia.  Riding a Seattle bus from the Ave to downtown at night never fails to be just another commute.

As the sun quietly disappears and the bus windows reflect back the humanity rubbing shoulders in this moving metal cylinder,  the gathering of party-heels and mini-skirts, make-up, tattoos, piercings, workers, homeless, lonely, and teens is sometimes poignant, sometimes loud, often perfumed with eau-de-bourbon, and occasionally scary.

But most of the time, it’s simply quiet with an undercurrent of loneliness–everyone pretending to be invisible, lost in their own reverie, attached to iPods and listening to their life soundtracks alone.

As I quickly scanned the full bus, taking a seat, I determined the relative peacefulness of the riders and took in the details of clothes, and expressions. Always, for a mind-expanding moment, I’m suddenly aware that everyone has a life of complex relationships and histories, everyone had a “day” and that day was different than mine, unconnected but for city–except we’re all now together on the 71.

I snapped out of my cosmic musings when a movement across from me revealed a rabbit. Surprised, all my surreptitious people-watching skill failed. I simply stared.

Gently held in an older man’s arms was a large charcoal gray bunny.

The man had an animal carrier on his lap, but the rabbit was clearly content looking out the window from the safety of his owner’s embrace. After the man’s seatmate left, he put the creature on his shoulder, and there he (she?) confidently sat, nose moving rapidly.

Whenever the bus slowed to a stop, the man carefully reached a hand up and held his friend in place.  When things got chaotic, he brought the bunny back to the safety of his arms and the creature snuggled close.

The man saw me watching. I smiled, but he looked away. I’m sure he was used to looks. Dogs and cats on the bus are common sights. A Metro-riding rabbit was a new one in all my bus-commuting years.

What captivated me, though, was not the uniqueness of his companion, nor that said companion seemed so unfazed by the busy bus, but the affection so obvious between them.

Love emanated from the man toward his little friend. He cared for his companion in a way I’ve rarely seen other riders act with their dogs or cats. And though reading the thoughts of a rabbit is beyond me, the bunny seemed confident and caring of his friend as well, nuzzing his cheek, content to relax in his arms or on his shoulder.

They cherished each other, attended to each other. Witnessing the affection, in a setting often marked by a quiet, desperate loneliness, brought tears to my eyes.

Companion is from the Latin companis, with-bread.

They were the food of love for each other.

Love takes many forms. As they left the bus, man and rabbit, I silently thanked them. On a night bus ride of anonymity shone a bond of companionship, that for a brief moment caught me as a witness in its embrace.

Photo: Thomas Hawk
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