Beauty in a Time of Dryness

Beauty in a Time of Dryness

These are dry times. Summer slips away faster than you can catch it – a dime down the drain. The sky hangs damp and icy today. Across the globe, powerful little men toy with the world’s future like it’s a game of chicken. Hurricanes have ravaged large parts of our earth. Families will suffer the effects for years to come. Terrorists won’t let London sleep. 

This planet can get so ugly. So broken. So disordered. So many of our mirrors are shattered.

There is order in beauty. A divine order, I believe, but whatever your theology you can feel it. The affirmation of disparate parts falling into place. 

Jennifer Berkenbosch’s Cultivar matters because the world needs beauty today. We need to be reminded that there is goodness. There is a solid bed beneath this wild river. 

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Why is Beauty?

Why do we eat?

We eat to keep ourselves alive. More specifically, to keep our bodies alive. To nourish.

There is a spectrum, from fasting to feasting. We may fast for forty days and live, I am told. Once I fasted three days only to get so weak I had to get off the ETS bus and buy an apple from 7-Eleven. I could feel the sugar surge through my veins, reviving me. Science tells me I could have held out longer, but I'm a small man.

We are fresh from Thanksgiving feasts, when family gathers around a special meal to eat more and better than we need. There is no practical purpose for gravy.

We fast sometimes and we feast sometimes and both are good.

But we do need to eat. The most basic food will sustain us. Mush. Gruel. Insects and leaves on desert islands. Rice and beans for a third world lifetime.

To survive we don't need flavour, but we do need food.

Why do we sleep?

The science of sleep seems to be a confounding conundrum, but I can tell you one thing for certain. I need sleep.

Shortly after returning from Europe, I awake in a half-dream state. Blurred vision. Disoriented stagger towards the bathroom. I've been away for two weeks in three different bedrooms and already I am losing my way in the darkness of home. Back in bed I lie half-awake for two hours. I move ever so slowly in and out of sanity. My vision is liquid – dancing in blurred shapes of light. This feels close to fainting. I wonder if I am going a little crazy. Or having a near-death experience. I check my pulse.

As I lay awake–and more awake each moment–I inch towards the light of reason. My mind clears its clouded waters until I can see bottom.

I was not crazy, after all. Only very, very tired. Jetlagged.

I eat to sustain my body. I sleep, I think, to sustain my mind.

But what of my spirit?

A few months back good friends shared good drinks and asked a good question: What is beauty?

We never got our definitive, move-forward-answer.

There were clues. We got peeks through the windows. Parts to make something of the Whole. But the whole remains obscured.

What is beauty? They still write books about this question.

But what if it is the wrong question? Often, questions matter more than answers.

We were asking 'What is Beauty?'. What we should have asked is this: Why is beauty?

This is perhaps the great forgotten question of our time. The walked-over-on-the-way-to-work-question. The question left behind on a rush through the Louvre to check the Mona Lisa off an itinerary.

Why is beauty?

Our bodies can go without food for 40 days and will let us know they need their hunger. By 40 days will theyever let us know. They have pain at the ready. Our minds can last a while without sleep before they slip. But anyone who has felt that slip start will tell you it is a long way down and that you'd better stay here and lie down a while at the top.

So what of our spirits? What food for them? What rest?

This is why beauty.

Last week my wife and I are reclining on the Parisian grass. We close our eyes, and when we open them, the Eiffel Tower is there. Just right there, and way up into the sky she reaches. She dances with light. We are drinking French champagne. We close our eyes again and when we open them, the Eiffel Tower is still there. And we are still here, on the Champ de Mars, like millions before us, feasting on beauty. We lie down and sigh. And then my wife is crying. Not sobs and not much, but a tear or two.

The spirit leaks in this way, sometimes. When jabbed with the sharp spear of beauty, a little hard and a little fast and a little too far in.

Somewhere on our trip, from some mouth or some wall's graffiti came words something like this; 'Beauty is the glow of Truth'.

My God, that is beautiful. And the best answer to our wrong-headed question I've heard so far. It might be just another peek through a window, but it's a mighty large window.

We need beauty. Our spirits need beauty, in the same way that our bodies need food and our minds need sleep.

But we have a problem–a fatal flaw in our design that I cannot understand. When we lack beauty, it is so hard to tell. Our spirits are so quiet. The body will cry out with pain. The lens of the mind becomes so foggy without sleep that we cannot walk a straight line. But what cry does the spirit make?

Depression. Boredom. Anxiety. Fear. Hatred. Hopelessness. Abandonment. Loneliness.

These are good warnings. When the needle is on empty, these will tell you. Unless you are not listening. Unless you drown the warnings out.

Entertainment will do the job.

Perhaps the ugliest thing I saw in Europe was a group of actors screaming for my attention at a dungeon-themed amusement park in Berlin. It was one of the most expensive mistakes of the trip. And the longest wait in line. The sets were elaborate and immersive. The actors were passable through thick German accents. The ghoulish special effects and suspenseful scares entertained, but none of it was beautiful. My spirit left hungry.

Entertainment is no stand in for beauty.

Let me repeat that, oh screen-sapped and weary generation of mine. ENTERTAINMENT IS NO STAND IN FOR BEAUTY.

Don't settle for entertainment. Seek out beauty. You won't have to look far. You don't need to travel. Beauty is just around the corner.

The most beautiful song is the song written just for you. The most radiant beauty is steeped in the context of home. The beauty of my own wife in a fancy dress. The beauty of Alberta Avenue on a sunny Kaleido Saturday.

Festivals and holidays are feasts, but our spirits need meals and snacks, too. Tiny beauty. The Sacred Small. We have to take time, and purpose, to stop and eat.

To look. To listen. To pay attention.

If I bring back one thing from two weeks in Europe it is the reminder to nourish my hungry spirit. To find the beauty of home and daily life. To grow stronger and healthier as I do.

I bring back answers to a good question. Why beauty?

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#ArtsTalkTuesday: What is Beautiful

It's that time again - #ArtsTalkTuesday – the time we gather round the campfire and share what has been speaking to us from the world of the arts. This week we continue to focus on a single question. What do you find beautiful?

With two good friends I've been reflecting on beauty. What is it? Is it anything? It is subjective? How can it be defined?

We've wrestled with these questions, but through the wrestling, it's inarguable that we are each moved by beauty. Whatever it is, whether or not we can define its edges, it moves us. It calls out for our response.

So rather than define beauty, we decided to share what we feel is beautiful. Perhaps, this way, we can look for common threads. We can 'reverse engineer' this amorphous quality we call beauty. Or, just as valuable, we can forget the definitions and discover new ways to experience beauty.

Please tell us what art you find beautiful.

Show us where to look. Be specific. List music, movies, books, dances, paintings, sculpture, installation – anything that leaps to mind at the mention of beauty.


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The Glen Workshop Part Two: A Banquet of Beauty

canyon road

Having arrived at the Glen Workshop late but in one piece, and having awoken my poor roommate, and not for the last time, I woke up to my first taste of Santa Fe sunshine. I headed to breakfast, gawking at the gorgeous landscape on every side. Turquise brush met turquoise trim on burnt sienna buildings hiding on burnt sienna hills. I crossed the adobe campus of St.John's College, past the tranquil Koi pond, towards the first of many abundant, delicious feasts. I ate very well in Santa Fe. From my first breakfast, I met incredible people. I challenged myself to join the conversation of a new group each meal. I learned a lot this way. I learned about art spaces and projects like The Bleeding Heart that had soaked up time, money and passion like sponges, rarely giving large returns on investment, but always worthwhile. This shared struggle somehow encouraged me. In other settings I could whine how difficult it was to get a crazy project like The Bleeding Heart Art Space off of the ground. I could bemoan being misunderstood. But here was total understanding. Here were those who fought in the same war, and having been wounded, rose to fight again. And again. Beyond my own excuses these were beautiful artists who made art work in their context, regardless of perceived success or failure.

Over the week I met remarkable men and women, most of whom have not made a living solely by their art, but have surrendered to its vocational calling nonetheless. They have simply found ways to create. Sometimes to not create for long seasons. Sometimes after raising families and establishing careers, to return to their first love of art making. But regardless where they had meandered across a lifetime, the artist's call remained a constant thorn and comfort.

You may recall my questions about what a real life artist looks like 20 years down the road from me. I met so many, with a kaleidoscope of answers. A few common truths emerged.

Artists are called and love or hate it they cannot shake that call. Artists find a way to make their work and surrender to their calling. Sometimes that way is their job. Oftentimes it is not. But they find a way or they suffocate. Artists are often on the margins of their communities, misunderstood and taken for granted. This is why the Glen Workshop is bread and water for so many creatives. It is a week of mutual understanding, where relationships put down last summer can be picked up at that same spot, and carried forward without disruption. Lastly, artists have an absolute overwhelming abundance of beauty to offer up to those who would only watch and listen.

I got to watch and listen a lot during the Glen. It's hard to overstate the blessing of simply witnessing God's creative energies exploding from his obedient children.

Each morning I would listen to poetry from my fellow workshop participants, every one gifted in some unique way. Each voice exposed to me a new facet of God's world. I saw with new eyes. Amy Newman, my poetry workshop director, led us towards some rich wells of words, and I've been returning to drink ever since.

Each afternoon I would enjoy the beauty of creation as I walked from building to building, or sat in the sun to soak it all in. Then I would wander the aisles of Eighth Day Books - a miraculous collection of arts and faith wonders. Then I would listen to reading, or view visual works by one of the workshop leaders. And then, after supper, I would do that again. Then the worship with Richard Rohr, presenting a faith I so wanted to embrace even when I struggled against its simplicity. And finally, some days, an open mic where the floodgates would burst with beauty brought by the workshop attendees. There was no pride or pretense in these performances. It was only, 'here is what God has given me to give to you. Isn't it cool?'. And it was always cool.

On our day off, I wandered downhill into Santa Fe's downtown with two friends I'd made. I won't go into detail to avoid a travelogue, but suffice it to say any creative person must visit Santa Fe. Canyon Road alone boasts a hundred galleries in a single mile. I have never seen anything like the quantity and quality of work on display here.

Later that night I crammed into the apartment of Jeffrey and Anne Overstreet for a gathering called The Thomas Parker Society. It was an intimate night where anyone could get up and read work they'd written or work by someone else that had moved them. There was both laughter and tears. I learned that this spontaneous happening happens spontaneously every year at the Glen, and that one talented man brews special beer to share just for the occasion. Another beautiful gift offered up to community.

As the week came to a close under that final Santa Fe moon I became sad for one reason. I knew that one cannot live with so much beauty always. I knew that this was only a foretaste of glory divine, a thin space where I could not breathe for long.

But for a week I feasted. And in gratitude for that feast, I wrote this poem.

I Just Want to Say

I just want to say (And not just, because I could gush) That you are each beautiful Your particular shimmer Bright as Santa Fe And I did not expect that Gift Or the long conversation Threaded through myriad mouths Across a week of dinners and Walks and waiting Each voice building on the last You, Christ's speech To my hungry ears

I just want to say That compliments are easy But not encouragement that I can believe And I believe you all Truth in love Church

I leave larger Mended where I knew no break Seeds in my spirit A garden growing You have no idea what you've planted In me

I just want to say that

Oh, and thank you

This post is part three of a four part series. Part one | Part two | Part three | Part four

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