Beauty that gives us insight into a better world

Today started like most others, my phone alarm going off. Sleepily, I put it on snooze, only to be awakened ten minutes later with the same cobwebs in my brain. Then, I roll over and look out the window at yet another magnificent East Tennessee sunrise.

I have started a ritual. Each day I walk out on the deck and take in the wonder that unfolds before me and I say the same simple prayer before I let myself get started. “God grant me to make an unflawed beginning today for I have done nothing yet.”

And then, I think about something (politics, a problem at work, or a host of other irritants that cause me to think ill of something or someone) and I realize that it is no longer an “unflawed beginning.” So, I fall back on the beauty that surrounds me.

I have always enjoyed the magnificence of nature. Looking up from the Cattails Golf Course as the sun sets over Bays Mountain is beautiful. I used to revel in the sheer splendor of coming around the road carved out of the cliff along Storm King Mountain as the sun rose over the Hudson River on my way to teach at West Point. There was also the sight of clouds boiling up over the Front Range in Colorado Springs. Awe inspiring all.

Most of the things we call beautiful are inanimate. Unto themselves, each object can be pretty or not depending on its context. A white puff of a cloud often floats past without notice. A tree can blend in, unseen against a backdrop of many others.

Sometimes something magical seems to occur, the momentary flash of brilliant pink hues as a setting sun tints the bottoms of the evening clouds or the pop of a bright red-leafed tree set against a backdrop of yellows when it is hit just right by the light. Is it just an odd quirk of timing? The sun and me arranged just right?

I have recently looked at the things around me in a new way. It is not just the happenstance of physical objects aligning to produce a pleasant sight. Now, I sense something different. C.S. Lewis stated it well when he said, “It is not the physical objects… but the indescribable something of which they become for a moment the messengers.” It is a simple notion, “Beauty as a messenger from God.”

When looked at this way, it is something quite reassuring. Regardless of our circumstances, there is always beauty to behold. There is always another glimpse at a world in which we do not live, but that promises to be ours. In adversity, it is a touchstone to anchor perseverance. In joy, it is a reminder that even what we when feel wonderful, there is so much more to behold. It is a message of hope.

However, we should not expect too much. It is all too easy to confront the world with a demand that it respond as we wish. To seek beauty, is to likely be disappointed. It will unfold of its own accord, in its own time, according a plan over which we have no control. Yet it will reveal itself when we most need the inspiration.

This evening, if I take the time to look, there will likely be an equally gorgeous sunset. Despite my love of a warm summer day, there is stark beauty to looking through a thicket of trees denuded of their leaves as crimson light casts shadows on the ground.

Tomorrow morning I will try again to make an “unflawed beginning.” My best hope is that I will do better that day…or the next…or the one after. I know that I will fail, but at least I get to start each time with a clean slate. And I know with certainty, that beauty, the messengers will appear for me again.   That is something to be truly thankful for.

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