For the Beauty

Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this reflection.

It was nearly seven years ago when I first remember beauty catching me and carrying me away. My family lived on a farm between Rockton and Shirland, Illinois. I had ridden my bike to a friend’s house for supper, followed by shared reading, which was a practice in her family. Now, it was time to go home—several miles on country roads—and it’s getting dark.

Oh, thank goodness my parents and hers were not overly protective or worriers. I start out on my bike alone down the long gravel lane that leads to the paved road. Mist is settling in the fields, and out of that mist rise… first a few, then millions of fireflies, sparks of light, that glimmer on the ground, ascend slowly, and glide on currents of air in a luminous ballet.

Okay, they have my full attention. I stop to stare at this spectacle. Remember, this was long ago, before the widespread use of pesticides, a time when bees and fireflies and butterflies were allowed to live. There I stand in slack-jawed amazement—twinkling lights from the ground to the tree-tops. And then the stars begin to appear, first a few, then millions, and the dancers join hands—light above, light below. Blessed be. At some point, when the mist settles on me and I begin to shiver, I ride home, lights to my right and left, crickets singing all the way. Hallelujah, my joy is complete.

“Caught By Beauty” by Armida Alexander

What makes you shout Hallelujah? What makes you say your joy is complete? What catches you and carries you away?

In your Touchstones Journal this month, there is a fairly simple way for understanding what spirit is. It is your Hallelujah song. It is what makes your soul sing. What causes you to recognize the spirit of life is different for each one of us, I suspect. 

For many, soul may be captured and conveyed in story, song, or poetry. For me it is all about beauty. 

Long ago as a teen I was worried, anxious, about how I looked. I didn’t look like the other girls, certainly not like the ones on TV. I didn’t look the way I thought I should. Then I went to my family reunion and everywhere I saw myself. Every woman—related to my grandmother—looked like me. They were all beautiful. I saw myself the way my grandfather saw my grandmother. It was grounding and gave me my Hallelujah.

In my twenties, I went to a three-day, all-women music festival in Michigan. It was mind-blowing for me. Every size and shape you can imagine was there. And every size and shape was beautiful. I had a song that my spirit could sing.

Seeing beauty in every person changed how I saw myself. It was freeing, and grounding, and spiritual.

I used to hike a lot. Not so much now. I loved the shades of green, of grey and brown. I loved mushroom hunting and making up names for all the different ones. I loved the light in the forest and how it changed. My soul sang with the beauty of nature, the perfection of creation. 

Years ago, when I was in my very first ministry in small church in north central Pennsylvania, I used to go for long drives in the car. There was a lot of poverty there. Especially in the more rural areas there where there was an amazing amount of homes with exposed insulation, no siding at all. Ugly yards with junk cars and other ugly, maybe-someday-useful things lying about haphazardly.

Such vast green vistas of rolling hills with dairy farms and small historic churches in the middle of nowhere, if you didn’t look at the humans and what poverty had caused.

Those long drives were full of beauty and sorrow. 

Glorious idyllic rolling farmland, and abject poverty. For me it was like driving through the deep south. Human misery combined with absolute beauty. I used to say look up or look long. Look past the human to the natural. 

Have any of you ever been to West Virginia? Absolutely gorgeous, beautiful hiking trails and places to camp, and at the very same time the most human misery I have ever seen. 

What is a soul? The ability to take it all in… the ability to see beauty and misery and create a song, a song that sings the spirit of life, that gives witness to all you have experienced, seen, felt, loved, touched and been touched by. 

We are awakening from our long isolation to see each other’s faces again.

Yesterday my family invited a few neighbor kids and their parents over for an outdoor birthday party for our now 3-year-old. Some wore masks at first, but most of us took them off as we were all vaccinated. I couldn’t stop looking at one little child’s father. He talked and talked. I was fascinated with his teeth and his mouth, the whole lower part of his face. I realized I was doing the same with all the adults, looking at the unmasked part of their faces like I had never done before: With new appreciation for the beauty.

What is making your spirit sing? What beauty are you taking in? Is it in the faces you haven’t seen in too long? Is it the greens and browns on a trail? Is it the light coming through the trees? Is it the sound of waves hitting the sand?

Seek out what makes your soul sing, what refreshes your spirit and holds your attention.

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