Last week I read a fascinating article by Timothy Willard entitled Why Beauty Matters in Wartime. It was based on an equally fascinating essay by CS Lewis Learning in War-Time. A couple of phrases caught my attention: “The day needs you – and your humanity to pursue the beautiful.” and “Beauty is the reaching hand of hope.”
Timothy Willard’s solution is for us to become mindful Christians and to remember that “the closer we get to the frontlines, the more one remembers all the things about life that make it worth living. ” and he says “beauty belongs to them all.” He believes that “such an approach searches for ways to bring hope and the vision of God into the lives of friends and families. It searches out ways to ease the suffering of those most affected.”
Shortly after that, Elaine Breckenridge shared the story in the Godspacelight Community group on Facebook of what happened when the tallest tree in Wales got damaged by a storm and was supposed to be cut down. Instead, chainsaw artist Simon O’Rourke found a better solution to symbolize the tree’s last attempt to reach the sky. He carved the sculpture above, a beautiful image of a hand reaching towards the sky from the tree trunk. Elaine commented “From the dust and ashes of destruction and decay, beauty rises. God’s new creation is possible even in the hands of humanity.”
I say “Amen” to Timothy Willard’s article and to the magnificent sculpture by O’Rourke. All of us feel we are living on the frontlines at present. Whether it is because we are filled with horror of the conflict in Ukraine or the fear that as prices rise we will not be able to make ends meet. We feel that ugliness surrounds us, not beauty yet we need the hope that these offer us.
This is definitely a time when we need to see beauty, we also need to create beauty out of the ashes and destruction around us. One of my other readings this week speaks to this. In her wonderful new bestseller This Here Flesh, Cole Arthur Riley reflects:
How can anyone who is made to bear likeness to the maker of the cosmos be anything less than glory? This is inherent dignity.
I do find it peculiar that humans have come to wield this over the rest of creation as though we are somehow superior. I don’t believe this to be the case. Sometimes I wonder if we knelt down and put our ear to the ground, it would whisper up to us, Yes, you were made in the image of God, but God made you of me. We’ve grown numb to the idea that we ourselves are made of the dust, mysteriously connected to the goodnesss of the creation that surrounds us.
Perhaps the more superior we believe ourselves to be to creation, the less like God we become. But if we embrace shalom – the idea that everything is suspended in a delicate balance between the atoms that make me and the tree and the bird and the sky – if we embrace the beauty of creation, we find our own beauty magnified. And what is shalom but dignity stretched out like a blanket over the cosmos?” (This Here Flesh, 7)
“If we embrace the beauty of creation we find our own beauty magnified.” Surely this is a time to embrace the beauty of creation – not just the creation we see around us, but the broken and scarred creation of fallen people and fallen trees, the ashes of ruined lives and those that suffer everywhere in the world. Beauty can be created from the ashes, but it takes effort and sacrifice, as I mentioned last week. One of my big concerns at the moment is that we will grow weary of doing good because of the cost to our own lives. I am afraid that we will stop supporting the people in Ukraine because we are sick of paying high prices for gas and groceries. So what are simple things we can all do to help?
Here are a few suggestions that expand on what I suggested last week:
- Give to organizations working with Ukrainian refugees.
- Get ready to welcome refugees into your community. Perhaps you can start gathering clothes or maybe you know of a house that could be prepared for a Ukrainian family.
- Last week I suggested buying a tank of petrol or a bag of groceries for those who are really feeling the pinch. Make a commitment to do this every week and encourage your church to develop or expand an existing program for this purpose.
- Share a ride with those who are most vulnerable.
- If you garden, share your produce with a vulnerable neighbor. Maybe you can get them to help you in the garden too.
- Teach a vulnerable member of your congregation or neighborhood to cook inexpensive meals for scratch. If your church has a commercial kitchen suggest cooking lessons.
We can create beauty from the ashes of death and destruction and in the process, I think we will find our own beauty magnified.
Now available as an online course, this virtual retreat will help you to lay out your garment of lament and put on your garment of praise. Gather your joys and release your grief with Christine Sine and Lilly Lewin! Click here for more info!