“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things…” ~ Philippians 4:8
Spiritual beauty always surrounds us, surrounds me right now: the fragrant, creamy-white petals of gardenias floating in a cobalt-blue bowl; the soft, fuzzy-peach flesh of my black kitten as she lies purring from a tummy rub; the magnificent burnt-orange spires of the Golden Gate Bridge arising from the choppy teal waves of San Francisco Bay; the iridescent filaments of a spiderweb adorned with dew. The poet Mary Oliver wrote that “to pay attention, this is our endless and proper work”–and yes, this is both our work and our respite.
Too often we dismiss the shimmering transcendence within us and around us; we are so conditioned from childhood to “be practical,” to “get real,” that we dismiss our innate creativity and sacred fire. Even more often we are derailed; the constant noise of 21st-century life sours or shrinks our sense of awed wonder.
We feel too hammered to use our spiritual eyes to sift through and sort and see the beauty that surrounds us, to champion its importance. We don’t realize or remember why doing this matters, why creating or curating beauty is desperately necessary, why–in the words of Polish poet Adam Zagajewski–we must “praise the mutilated world.”
On any given day, we are assaulted with the unspeakable–staggering reports of violence and senseless loss around our globe are, devastatingly, our daily fare. On the day I write this, the news media has been relentless in its coverage of an unfathomable tragedy involving children.
And on the evening I write this, my 9-year-old daughter has come into my home office to bring me a small porcelain plate–bite-sized chocolate wafers with tiny diamonds stamped on their surface have been carefully placed on it, along with four pink blossoms picked from the flowering bush outside our home. Tonight I think that I have never seen such beauty as I do in this offering, this unsolicited gift of an innocent loving heart. As I draw her close to hug and kiss her in thanks, I think that I have never felt such loveliness as I feel now, holding the warmth of her small back, which rises gently with each breath.
Paying attention to and expressing what is true, noble and right, pure and lovely and admirable, is a way of rising gently with each breath. It is not a superficial luxury in this world; it is an urgent necessity. It is being a light in the darkness, a protest against ugliness, a harmonic in dissonance, order in the midst of chaos. It is a political statement. It is a spiritual practice.
It is a cause, and it is a calling. It is a line in the sand, a sign of determined resolution that proclaims that no matter what appearances or predictions might say, the Sacred does surround us. We are enfolded in the Holy. There is always something lovely to be found, always; and the search for it or deliberate creation of it is never frivolous. John Keats was right: Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty.