Sunday, October 30, 2011

"The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken."

--C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What He has purposed

"Only with the benefit of hindsight is it possible to see all the intricate details of God's plan working together for the good of his people. So also in our own lives, we may well have no idea what God is doing. He may seem hidden and remote, refusing to answer our prayers and to give us what we so earnestly ask of him. Wait! The end of our story has not yet been told, and who knows how the pieces of the jigsaw that at present seem to have no logical connection with one another will ultimately come together . . . sometimes [God's work] is a quiet faithfulness to his promises in the seemingly ordinary providences of life, bring about in the hearts of his people what he has purposed."

--Iain M. Duguid

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Embracing Beauty

The word "sehnsucht" is German for "intense desire or longing." I first saw it in a book by C.S. Lewis in which he was talking about his childhood. He said that he and his brother had a playroom from which they could see distant mountains which they desperately wanted to visit. Those mountains became the basis of some of their imaginary adventures. They wanted to go to those mountains more than anything else in the world, but they could not. Yet, because the mountains were close enough to be seen, the boys were daily tantalized with the idea of someday going to their dream land. When he became older, Lewis tried to explain how much he had wanted to go to those mountains, and no one English word could sum up what he had felt. He chose to explain it as "sehnsucht." When I saw that word and understood what it meant, I identified with Lewis' feelings. His description summarizes a deep part of us that comes out in how we think and feel about almost every part of our lives, from our love of beauty, to our spiritual lives, to our dreams for marriage and family, to our love of learning.

We so often find ourselves lost in the wonder of this life, but when setbacks, disappointments, and broken dreams enter the picture, we find it more necessary than ever to entrench ourselves in the all-consuming mindset of delight. God made us to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. To rightly understand and appreciate what He has done, is doing, and will do, and most importantly, to enjoy Him, we need eyes to see the beauty. Pursue beauty; embrace it; immerse yourself in it, even when life is dark or confusing. Seeing the beauty of the Lord and of His work makes our heart dance, and slowly but surely changes our worldview perspective on everything, in the most beautiful ways.

All it takes is a simple smile and a friendly voice. It begins with a sunrise and lasts through the sunset. It can start with a flower. Sensory perceptions turn into little delights every day, and the chain of events has begun.

We find strange comfort from the sound of pages turning in a book. We hear Gregorian chants, flutes playing softly, and a choir singing proudly. We hear the ticking of old clocks and enjoy smell of candles at night. Our hearts slowly open to the possibility, to the ultimate reality, that there is something beyond the surface of what we see.

A jar full of pencils or paint brushes greets us at our desk, and we can’t help but smile. We notice it when we feel wood sanded smooth. We see it in daffodils and daisies and roses. We even know it with things we have made, like when we touch homemade knitted sweaters and scarves.

It happens when we lie on grass in the shade or the feel sand in our hands at the beach as we make sand castles. It comes out when we sip iced tea in a rocking chair on the porch with a good book or a friend. It happens on a tree swing on a quiet afternoon. Tilling our gardens seems like work but somehow becomes play. It slips in when we hold a kitten or get a loving welcome from our dogs. It almost overwhelms us when we touch a baby’s skin.

Homemade bread baking in our kitchens takes us to another time. We find ourselves surprised by the beauty and taste of summer berries. We laugh and tell stories as we roast marshmallows over a fire in the late evening. We relax in the flavor of a delicious wine. We sit and ponder over the last cup of Earl Grey tea before bedtime.

We find it in cobalt blue vases, and stained-glass windows when the sun shines through them and projects beautiful colors all over the house. It’s in every natural rainbow and every rainbow made by a prism. We realize that our eyes are amazing, how light bounces off things we look at and into our eyes, and then we get an image in our heads. We stand in awe at the millions of colors we see everywhere. We see flowers reach for the sun by day, and we watch the moon and stars come out at night. We enjoy silver antiques, we paint folk art, we create photo albums, and we write black words on white homemade paper. We watch the crackling of the fire in the fireplace on a cold night. We see Baby's Breath flowers, wood stained cherry, marbles, birds with exotic colors, calligraphy, old Baroque and Impressionist paintings. We stare endlessly at the clouds. Beauty always creeps in—and often storms in—everywhere we look.

God designed animals to bring it out in us in fun yet profound ways. We see it when we watch puppies learn to walk or see dogs frolicking without a care in the back yard. We see it when we hold a gentle, trusting baby lamb. We find ourselves talking to our animals as if they understood; and yet, at the same time and in another sense, it is we who are beginning to understand something deeper about life. We hear bees buzzing, crickets chirping, frogs croaking, and birds singing their songs of praise every day, and see lightning bugs’ muted, quiet, yellow songs at night. Even the creek has a song as it bubbles over rocks and the water winds its way through its course.

The sun pours in through lacey curtains, and the morning light impresses on us as if the light were life itself. The transition from the early sunrise to the golden afternoon glaze becomes a daily metaphor for our lives, so we stand amazement at sunsets, as if another beautiful life has come and gone before our eyes, and we long to somehow hold on to those moments forever. We stand in awe at the beautiful power of lightning, and revel in the strange calm that comes through the delicious wind of a stormy night. We lie in bed and listen to the rain outside, and know that there is beauty there beyond what we understand, yet we do not ponder it too long: we simply delight in it.

We watch the seasons, and again see life portrayed before us every year. We watch the blooming of Spring flowers, the ripening and budding of the Summer crops, the beautiful transitioning to Autumn leaves, and enjoy preparing our Winter homes so we can watch the beautiful snow drifts and look in wonder at the detail of ice patterns on our windows.

Flowers almost overwhelm our senses. We plants flowers around our homes and bring some inside to intoxicate ourselves with the beautifully delicious scents. Life becomes a garden, with beauty adorning our table. Morning glories climb our trellises, giving us the sense that we ourselves are somehow climbing alongside them toward the sun.

In the evening, we sit on the floor with an open Bible by candlelight, and just sit and do nothing but think and breathe deeply, and pray, and try to hear God’s voice. We push out the noise of the world and listen to the Holy Spirit instead. We quiet our hearts before Him, and sing songs to Him. We let eternity resonate into our thoughts. We cry out for transcendence.
We find ourselves unable to resist the urge to take the overwhelming creativity we see all around us in nature and not become more creative ourselves. We draw and sketch and paint. We take photos because we can’t help but want to share the beauty we are seeing with others. We read literature and find ourselves writing our own books. We learn to work with our hands and find that while work is always good, it is best when it is creative, imaginative, and beautiful. We sing and play musical instruments because there is a song in our hearts welling up as never before.

We find this creativity inundating not just our perception of the world, but our very bodily interaction with it, and we find ourselves literally dancing. We clap our hands for joy. We smile more freely, laugh more fully, and even breathe more deeply as we find our senses becoming more alive than ever. We embrace our physical bodies, their desires, and praise Him for it all.

And the beauty continues, and increases. We take up hobbies of all kinds, because there is no limit to what we want to learn and absorb and create and share. We study languages because we are amazed at the beauty of how God allows us to communicate. We read and write because we love words, and love to dream, imagine, create, and think carefully and well, for His glory.

We stare more and more in wonder at beautiful starry nights, and wonder how deep the universe goes. We soak in the sound of waves hitting the beach. We relish the sound of rain, which reminds us that God takes care of His creation. We smile as we hear snow falling, almost like a soft symphony of subtle praise to Him. We soak up all of life’s profundity and joy, and let life as a whole sink deep into our hearts to make an impact.

We realize and believe that this world is a playground for every part of us--for our bodies and for our minds, so we love to learn. We study foreign languages, because we love other people, other cultures, and because we love the beautiful complexity of communication. Learning how other people speak and live begins to delight our souls.

Whatever we look at—almost no matter what it is—begins to become breathtaking, and almost deserving worship, yet it leads us to the One who does deserve worship. God is indeed an Artist beyond our wildest dreams. We can't wait to get to heaven to see all the beauty waiting for us there, and we admit we can't do it justice even in our imagination because we are so fixed on this world. But we try, and delight in the trying and anticipating, and remove any hindrance from taking pleasure in this watercolor world. To not soak up and share with others the beauty becomes a waste, and so we are changed.

God is the One who puts a love for the beautiful in our hearts—for beautiful thoughts, for poetry, for art, for music, and creative works of literature, and for so much more. We find ourselves studying words and math and almost everything we can get our hands on as they all become attractive and exquisite tools that we no longer just use, but revel in, like they are new life forms just discovered.

We learn to focus on the imagination. We realize that the Creator who made all these things has an amazing, brilliant imagination, and that He put a reflection of that imagination in us. We learn to create, to visualize what is not yet, to think in terms of epic stories and even fairy tales. We realize that our longing for transcendence is beautiful, and proof we were ultimately made for a different place than this.

In this mindset, people become more beautiful to us. Long, meaningful conversations become what life is all about. Cherishing kindred spirits and reveling in lifetime friendships become our focus. It becomes so, so good to partake of dear friendships, to laugh and relish together every moment we have with loved ones. Sharing stories of love and life and of what the Lord is doing in our lives nourishes our souls. Our precious memories give us daily pause to be thankful to God for what He has abundantly done, and to ask for future grace.

The love He plants in us turns to a specific beloved one. God helps us understand that we best understand Him by loving another, and He grants us a life partner and a best friend. Marriage grants us the chance to finally take all this beauty of which we have already partaken so much, and delight in it most with that one person He has given us. Our ability to perceive and enjoy beauty is amplified exponentially as our deferred hope-chest becomes fulfilled desire. Our love letters turn to betrothals, and our best friends become our lovers.

The beauty of marriage is a daily reminder of how blessed we are by God. We hold hands because it is so good to be in physical contact with our mate. When we reach for that one, the touch of our skin, the act of reaching out, causes the other to reach back in love. We want to touch and be touched, to be held and embraced. We revel in the beauty of his masculine strength and desire, and of her feminine beauty and loveliness. Passion takes over as the beauty of the body consummates in our love. Intimacy reveals more and more of what this beauty has been all about. We enjoy our bodies without restriction. We delight in the strong embrace of her man: his kind, protective care, his affirming words and touch, and his masculine tenderness; the beauty of his woman: her elegant body, her soft face, her lovely eyes, her lips, her breasts, her hips, and her femininity.

We find romance and beauty in the ordinary parts of life, like waking up together to the sun, planting a garden as a couple, cooking dinner side by side, holding hands while taking late-night walks, and lingering on a porch swing in the moonlight. Flowers in her hair and a smile on her face become the most important things in the world to him. We dance together, even for just a few minutes, every night. We watch sunsets and count the stars together. We delight in embraces, in having our affection and passion directed toward each other often. We stare at each other longingly from across the room, and admire one another’s beautiful hearts and bodies. We thank God for our best friend. We inspire and encourage each other, and pray together, trying to always remind ourselves of the mindset of Christlikeness—of serving, of humility, and of pouring ourselves out for one another in love.

And beauty increases yet again as we realize that love begets life. The beauty of fertility, pregnancy, and childbirth surprises and delights us in ways we could not imagine. It is almost too much to see: the sight of a mother, having given all her love to her beloved husband, now turning to fully embrace how God made her body, as she feeds her baby from her own breast. And her husband, caring for his wife and child more than ever, doing all he can to protect and provide for them, and to nurture his marriage and family.

We delight in the love that lasts a lifetime, as we fall in love over and over again. Intimacy becomes mature, and we find that our enduring, committed love and the solid unity in our spirits draw us closer and closer, year after year. We turn to children, to the beauty of these young blessings from the Lord. We talk to them of God’s love, and we show it every day in our marriage, as our undying love through Christ gives them strength and character.

We play well, and it is beautiful. We learn again to blow bubbles, to have tea parties, to act silly and tickle. We put braids in our little girls’ hair, and splash in puddles with our sons. We teach our children to fly a kite. We knead bread together, and laugh as we eat chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven. We run through sprinklers and take walks in the park. We stand amazed at the beauty of children, from birth, through their infancy, into their growing into young adults. We learn to become children again through them.

All this beauty turns us continually to the beauty of the Lord and of the great salvation He has granted us. We revel in how He has revealed Himself, and we connect the dots of how He created us: in His image. We realize that how He created men and women in the Garden was a direct reflection of His own personality. We understand that we are not arbitrary: we are patterned after the Creator God, and in marvelous ways. Anything good, beautiful, and splendid about our humanness comes because we are children of our Father. Our bodies, spirits, emotions, dreams, desires, and even our heartaches in some way reflect who God is or help us understand what He sees and feels.

What we learn leads us to an unrivaled ability to fully give God the glory due to Him. Deep gladness takes over. Joy, delight, celebration, and undiluted pleasure make themselves at home in our hearts as we realize that the very God of the universe saw our utterly lost condition and adopted us into His family. Contagious gratitude swells within our hearts and causes us to want to share that beauty with everyone—even with the most remote tribes in the jungle or the most cynical people at work. We know that God’s love and beauty has won our hearts, and like beggars who have found the bread, we long to share what we know with others.

God’s Word becomes more beautiful to us every day as we realize that all our perceptions of beauty mean nothing without wisdom and understanding from the Lord. We see His love letter to us and read it with eyes more open every day to the truths He wants to share. The general joy of God in nature and life transitions to the clear and specific message to us of what the beauty has been all about. Life is about intimacy and beauty, and will be for all eternity. It's what God, the Gospel, heaven, and humanity are all about. We embrace the beauty. We pursue it, revel in it, and dive into it with all our hearts. It creates emotions that go down into our souls and affect everything else. We begin to see God and beauty everywhere. Intimacy with the Lord becomes the most beautiful thing we can pursue, and we learn to constantly quench our thirst in the river of His delights.

Why do so many of us lose our childlike innocence, our wonder at the miracle of life? And why do so few of us realize how much like little children we still are, reaching back for the beauty we once knew but feel is lost? Where is the precious spontaneity, the abundant peace, the innocent pleasure?

These are the moments that become the hinges upon which our lives take major turns. These are the empty days and sleepless nights that count, despite how much they sometimes feel like a waste. These are the moments when we choose to seize the day, to seize the beauty, and to seize what truly matters.

These things do not ease the pain if we try to embrace them in the darkest hours. We shape our worldviews before the storms come, training the eyes of our hearts to see beyond ourselves to the deep, pervasive beauty of life so much that even in the midst of trials, our focus is already locked on the beauty, so fiercely that nothing can ultimately tear us away.

God is beautiful, creation is beautiful, life is beautiful, we are beautiful, love is beautiful, salvation is beautiful, and our precious Savior is beautiful. Any other perception else is just a temporary distraction. We pursue and embrace the beauty, for life and for eternity. And when God puts a song in our hearts, we sing it out. When He sets our feet dancing, we dance for Him. And even when He causes us to cry, we shout out through the tears that we know that even wounds He inflicts are for our good.

God, grant us the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the heart to perceive the beauty with which You have surrounded us. We do not ask primarily that You change our circumstances; we ask that You change us. Lord, grant us a right perspective so that our lives might be a beautiful testimony to Your mercy and grace toward us.