Need Some Words of Encouragement?
Beauty. Awareness. Momentum.
Have there always been this many butterflies or have I just been missing them? Even in a time of crisis, there's beauty literally flying all around us. Did you see the flight of the Blue Angels last week? Can you look up into a blue sky right now? Or maybe it's raining as you read this. Doesn't matter. Both are beautiful. To recognize there is both suffering and there is beauty all around us can be done at the same time. To acknowledge beauty is not to deny suffering.
So, take a walk along the trails of the Arboretum, around Hermann Park, or through Glenwood Cemetery in the Heights. Meet your neighbors across the street under the setting sun. It is almost like Halloween every night, there are so many people out. Listen to all the stirring music at your fingertips from Bach to the Beach Boys to Bon Iver. We're in a new and golden age of television too, if you know where to look. Compelling stories, well told, and meaningful.
What's beautiful to you? What out there makes your heart beat faster? Can you identify the most amazing about your family, your friends, your city? Name it. What in God's creation really lights you up? Call it out when you see it. Explore why this moment, this thing, this sound appeals to you, creates a sense of awe, and makes you feel good. Praise God for it. Follow up on it. This is worship.
At our Ash Wednesday service this year (seems forever ago), I mentioned a book which Rob Jefferies, a member of our church, introduced to me written by an actor named Stephen Towboloski. In it, Stephen tells the story that, at the urging of his Rabbi, he began the practice of praying the 'Shema' from Deuteronomy 6, not only when something went right and he felt blessed, but also whenever something didn't go wrong, or even if it did go wrong, didn't go wrong worse.
Attuned by this exercise, he began to recognize the appearance of blessing and the avoidance of calamity everywhere. Soon, it was Shema, Shema, Shema morning, noon, and night. The practice quickly rewired him to see the beauty in his life so frequently it became perpetual, feeding on its own momentum, renewing his heart and mind in just a short season.
Another member of our church, Larissa Fletcher, told me she's tried to incorporate this exercise into her life and her little daughter, Emma, has taken to the practice too. Instead of saying the 'Shema' though, Emma simply says the word, 'Shoe-Mat!' when she feels and recognizes blessing.
This week, recognize the beauty flying all around you. Call out both the blessing and the avoidance of calamity you see, signaling your awareness of it to God. Then, feel the flywheel begin to move, creating a transforming momentum that ushers into your soul a new and deeper sense of joy.
Creator of beauty and love. I know and feel the suffering of those all around me. I pray for healing. Let this difficult moment soon hasten away. At the same time, let me not miss the indelible moments of soaring beauty surrounding me now. Help me navigate this tension, in a way that does not efface pain, but dignifies suffering, and recognizes blessing.
Bring a new focus to my eyes so I see all that is the good and beautiful I encounter, but not only this. Sharpen my vision also such that I become more gratefully aware of the bad experiences that are avoided, that are sidestepped, or that could have been worse.
May I this week better recognize the beautiful and ineffable that's right in front of me. May I experience my life with a more sustained sense of joy and added insight which then prompts me to see even more, including all I missed before. Like all those butterflies.
I praise You, my God, as I endeavor to love You with all my heart, with all my soul, and all my strength.