I Saw Beauty

I Saw Beauty

This article was first published in the Beauty issue of Common Place Quarterly.

It was one of the first cool days of the fall. The leaves were starting to change, the seasons were beginning to shift, and on this morning, you could feel it in the air. The children trickled in for breakfast, and to my dismay, the attitudes and atmosphere inside the house were starting to feel like the cold air outside. Someone complained about what was for breakfast. Another complained that he was awakened before he was ready. It didn’t look like a great start to our day.

We pressed on into lessons. Unkind words began to spark forth like an untended ember. The smoldering seemed to spread until everyone in the house was in a thoroughly bad mood. Mama included. I knew something needed to change. “Let’s go for a walk,” I said, “and get some fresh air.”

“Really?” said the children. “But we haven’t finished all our subjects for the day!”

“It’ll be okay,” I responded. “The books will still be there tomorrow. It’s so nice out; what we need is some outside time. I want to spend some time appreciating God’s handiwork.”

We mixed up some hot cocoa for our thermos and headed into the beauty God created for us. I was carrying the baby in one arm, and my preschooler grabbed my other hand. I looked down into his face and he smiled at me with a happiness that shone from within. And I saw beauty.

Not the surface beauty that society tells us is the meaning of the word. Many words get watered down in today’s culture, but the word beauty suffers more than most. Every day as we go about our everyday lives, the world tries to convince us what beauty is. And we are told that we must attain this standard of beauty in order to be accepted and appreciated by this world. But we are not called to be a part of this world. Our culture is addicted to image and to surface beauty. But superficial external beauty does not last. Since we are not of the world, “we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

When I looked into my child’s eyes, I saw a beauty the world doesn’t understand. The Irish poet John O’Donohue described this deeper beauty when he said:

Beauty isn’t all about just nice loveliness, like. Beauty is about more rounded, substantial becoming. So I think beauty, in that sense, is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.

Beauty is a homecoming because it is a reminder of the world as it once was. In the beginning, “God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:4). The word good is translated from the Hebrew word ṭôwb, which is used throughout the Bible to mean good, pleasant, and agreeable to the senses. It could also be translated as beautiful, better, best, goodly, or precious. The earth was the first beauty, and it was made by God. We are beautiful because God says we are.

When He created the world, God could have made it without the light that dances on a mountain face. He could have made it without the flowers that vary in color and shape. He could have made it dull, dark, and uninteresting. But He didn’t. Instead, He created beauty. What is more, He gave us the ability to recognize and appreciate beauty. In fact, He created us with a need for beauty. When God formed the elaborate complexity of nature, He declared it good. He made it a gift, a gift that satisfies a need that He Himself placed in our souls.

When I feel out of sorts, I know that the best way to find the beauty my soul craves is to go outside. I immerse myself in nature and allow my senses to feel once again. Beauty is not a superficial luxury, reserved for a few elite. It is for everyone, and it is in everyone. Blaise Pascal wrote, “In difficult times carry something beautiful in your heart.” We store up beautiful moments; we keep them in our hearts and minds. And when we are deeply lonely and in a dark valley, memories of beauty sustain us until the light comes again.

One way we keep beauty is in our nature journals. God has given us the wonderful gift of not only being able to appreciate beauty but also of being able to create beauty. He is a creator and He made us in His image! We put paint to paper until we see flowers, weeds, snails, and landscapes staring back at us. Through our little acts of creation, the images of God’s wondrous creation are stored in our hearts.

Throughout history, countless men and women have used their God-given gifts to create beauty. Sometimes they do so with paint, sometimes with words, and sometimes with sound. As a family we cherish these creations of beauty, knowing that they too become treasures to carry in our hearts for the difficult times. We read aloud together, we study pictures, and we listen to classical music. These stories, images, and sounds build our family culture.

In The Parents’ Review, V.M. Hood wrote:

Literature, art, music, all three can begin to be learned in the nursery. All three are a great possession, a possession for life. When the clouds of life drift about your children, these three will lead them through the mists to the mountain tops, and there they will find that the sun they had thought obscured is always shining in the Eternal Heavens.

Hood shows us how to apply Pascal’s advice. She tells us to bring beauty in all its many forms even to the littlest of our little ones.

One form of beauty shines even brighter than the rest. In Isaiah 40:8 we read, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” We read and meditate on God’s Word every day, knowing that “Those who look to [God] are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed” (Psalm 34:5). My children and I have been learning verses put to music for a few years now. It’s a special time in our day to sing these songs with one another and to the Lord. We tuck these verses into our hearts and ask our Heavenly Father to bring them to mind when we need them most. It is my prayer that we will have them to rely upon and lean into God’s Word as a light upon our feet no matter what dark paths we may walk in this life.

As I went on that early autumn nature walk with my children, I could feel my tension being gently released as I breathed in God’s beauty. I started to feel a difference in my children too. As the day became warmer, the atmosphere of our hearts changed too. We saw a maple leaf with the perfect blend of red, yellow, and orange. We saw light filtered through the canopy above. We heard birds chattering in the gentle breeze. And then one of my children turned to me. “I’m glad we went on this walk today,” he said. “It reminds me of one of our verses. ‘All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name.’” In those words, my child revelated perhaps the most important lesson of all about beauty. It is not meant to satisfy us completely. Rather, it is meant to point our hearts to God.

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