By Ken Whitt
We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough.— C.S. Lewis
We want something else that can hardly be put into words—
To be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it,
To receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it,
To become part of it.
We live among the beautiful hills, farms, forests, gorges, and waterfalls of the Hocking Hills region of southeastern Ohio. No doubt, our lives are sustained by this luxurious canopy of life. This sustenance is more than simply good. It is utterly necessary.
We long to actively participate in the creation of beauty. Kathy weaves stunning rugs on one of her two looms. I create wood art in my workshop. These activities are more than simply good. They are utterly necessary.
Utterly necessary? So much that is beautiful is passing away. So must that is lovely, scenic, gorgeous and magnificent is passing into the past. Will my grandchildren see the glaciers or the redwoods or the reefs?
Utterly necessary? This very day, grief threatens to overwhelm us; we who are among the most blessed and privileged. The song-birds are suddenly gone from our back yard and much of this region. Another traumatic loss just pierced our lives, lives that we anxiously hoped were inoculated against such tragedy by the miracles of medicine.
If you visited our home, you might be tempted to think of us as strange folks. You couldn’t miss two large compost bins, one waiting for the spring when it will provide nutrients to our organic garden. You would certainly notice the just delivered 330 gallon water tank about to become part of a rain collection system. Wood piles line the front of the house to feed the appetite of our just installed wood stove. We are adapting to the many intersecting predicaments that threaten our world. We are growing some of our own food and canning fruits and vegetables, while knowing full well that we cannot be sure what adaptations are most needed, or how soon.
In the meantime, we absorb and create beauty.
Why? Let me share this account…
A couple of weeks ago, a Tuesday morning, sitting on my porch–it was a beautiful day. However, I was deep into grief, at so many levels that I’d stop trying to keep track of them; and I’d kept trying to avoid them all.
Such an effort is exhausting. I was exhausted. I had barely dragged myself into the day and had pressed myself into prayer. Finally, striving to remember God’s love and the safety I feel when I connect with God, I began to weep. Gut-wrenching tears, knots of sadness untied broke forth as groans, too deep for words.
Various layers of grief caught my attention, one after the other. All I had to do was silently cry out, “I miss you!” Grief took over again. Each grief evoked its unique expression, yet each also led me deeper and deeper into God’s embrace; until I was spent and began to just rest.
“Come on to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Eyes closed. Stomach tension gone. Breathing softly. Resting.
Suddenly, I realized that from within the inner quiet I was seeing images. New patterns, new combinations of color and design, new projects waiting for me to see if they could be created in my wood-working shop. “I’ve never done that before. Is that even possible? How canI know? Unless I try.”
As a direct result of what I saw as I rested–only after I had grieved–I found myself, over the next few days, being magnetically drawn into my workshop at every opportunity. I began playing with new ideas, staring long and hard at the various woods that are found on dozens of shelves and smaller pieces in a plethora of boxes.
I an artist? Why? What is the good of this calling to creativity?
Apparently, it is healing! Creativity can be birthed in suffering, because suffering sees reality through God’s eyes. Possibilities of beauty are hidden when we hide from the shadows. Beauty, as Brian Zahnd says in the title of his book, Beauty Will Save the World.
How can that possibly work? Well, for one thing, creating beauty and seeing beauty may cause us to fall in love, finally, or all over again, with the creation. Can falling in love with the creation compel us to stop destroying it? Can falling in love with the creation, spending time creating, draw forth every last ounce of beauty from the creation, compelling us to at last grieve what we have so carelessly and greedily done to the earth?