For those of us in our part of the world, we find ourselves in the “Heart of Winter.” The frigid air at first light is enough to cause the skin to scream, pleading with your body to return to the house. My friends back home always laugh and tell me how lucky we are “in the South” not to have that much snow. But what they don’t realize, is the lack of light from a winter blanket can cause everything to look dull and lifeless. In January and February, Kentucky’s endless overcast skies put a gray hue over everything. With the Christmas trimmings neatly tucked away for another year, the barrenness makes beauty harder to find. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I end up leaving our decorations up longer. As started writing this, my tree was still lit up in all its glory. You could call it denial, but I prefer to see it as “an extended celebration.”
One day in mid-January, I walked out the side door to see the beginnings of a magnificent sunrise. The ominous clouds were too high to mask the sight. The combination of fiery reds and brilliant oranges overshadowed the crisp morning air. I watched as the sun slowly made its way over the horizon and beams of light cascaded my garden. At that moment, I was captivated. I stood there mesmerized as the sun finally reached the frost covered weeds, magically transforming them into a field of diamonds. It was breathtaking.
Beauty does that to us. It has a way of stopping us in our tracks. It can hold our gaze for moment, inviting us deeper, if we let it. I’ve come to see this draw as divine in nature. Beauty is meant to illuminate our desires while causing our hearts to respond in gratitude. What’s amazing about gratitude is that it’s the birthplace of connection. If we look at the definition of gratitude, it is “the quality of being thankful; a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” I love how this definition implies an exchange of showing and receiving appreciation! This is the nature of relationship.
I recently listened a lecture on the effects of gratitude in our physical bodies as well as our relationships. The speaker suggested that those living in consistent conflict and contempt were more likely to experience illness compared to those living in atmospheres that foster love and gratitude. Sociologists who study successful marriages have also discovered that spouses who express higher levels gratitude over negativity report longer and happier relationships. Should this surprise us? Suddenly Veggie Tales is echoing through my head – “Because a thankful heart is a happy heart… that’s why we say thanks every day!”
It doesn’t take us too long to see the lack of gratitude in today’s world. Statistics reveal increased health problems, work related issues, and divorce. The news is flooded with stories about injustices, anger, and retaliation. I’m not suggesting that gratitude will fix everything, but there’s no denying its power to create an atmosphere for love and reconciliation. Reflecting on my heart’s response to the sunrise and its effects on the garden, my husband and I found ourselves in series of conversations around our kitchen table. We spent hours talking about the power of beauty and what it does in our hearts. There is no doubt in my mind that beauty has the power to heal. People spend huge amounts of time and money in their determination to find it. The problem is, we will settle for a quick fix never realizing we’ve accepted a counterfeit. Rarely do we stop to take inventory of how these counterfeits slowly dull our ability to see what is real and authentic. I’m convinced, this is what is at the core of most addictions.
I ran across a quote on the subject not long ago. Maurice Robertson sums it up beautifully:
“Ecstasy and delight are essential to the believers’ soul and they promote sanctification. We were not meant to live without spiritual exhilaration, and the Christian who goes for a long time without the experience of heartwarming will soon find himself tempted to have his emotions satisfied from earthly things and not, as he ought, from the Spirit of God. The soul is so constructed that it craves fulfillment from things outside itself and it will embrace earthly joys for satisfaction when is cannot reach spiritual ones. The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go any length of time without tasting the love of Christ and savoring the felt comforts of the Savior’s presence. When Christ ceases to fill the hearts with satisfaction, our souls will go in silent search of other lovers.”
This incredible description of our heart’s need for beauty is the deep longing of our souls for meaning and connection. Our need is constant. We were designed this way – for connection with God and each other. As I say this, it’s also important to recognize what we were not designed for. The Fall set the stage for an altered reality; the great war. Pain, suffering, and heartbreak were something we were to never meant experience. But in God’s graciousness, He sent a remedy. His rescue came through re-connection in Jesus. God didn’t stop there. He proceeded to paint His love for us throughout creation. This beauty would become His love letter to awaken us and ignite hope of what is yet to come (Rom 1:19-20).
My husband and I sat around the table with dear friends of ours last night. Hearing personal stories of recent and unexpected suffering brought a sobriety to the conversation. Each of us understood the reality of the spiritual war we face. As the night continued, we also shared stories of God’s relentless pursuit of us despite the pain. But the moment we started sharing stories of beauty, something changed. Sunsets, watching deer play, long walks beside moving streams, and long drives in the country… it was like watching light cut through the darkness. It was healing salve for our souls. We left the table with gratitude in our hearts and a renewed commitment to make time for beauty.
I leave you with this: Beauty is essential for the soul. Make time for it. Don’t just wait for it to hit you in the face. I’ve talked a lot about finding beauty in nature but for some people, finding beauty may mean going to an art gallery. For others, it’s found in listening to music. Still others may see it through watching their child’s ballet recital. For me, I find it difficult to recognize opportunities for beauty when I am consumed by endless tasks, activities, or a full calendar. Many times, I have to practice of ancient discipline of silence and solitude to make room for it. It often looks like putting my phone down and disconnecting from the world. I choose to go for a walk or sit on my front porch to watch the sunset. Whatever you choose, let God call you back to Himself.
You’ll be glad you did.
Until next time…