We are living in a messy time.  A time filled with fear, with anger, with frustration, with pain.  Some of these things are beyond our control.  Some we could relieve and change, if only we made the decisions required to do so. There are examples right now of people in our world who are making those hard decisions – in big and small ways.  The decisions that will rise up above the mess and exude beauty.  The kind of beauty that we need.  The kind of beauty that will inspire others.  The kind of beauty that shines a bright light on those who have done wrong and calls them into account. The kind of beauty that gives hope to those who are battered and broken and encourages the weary.  The kind of beauty that is strong and clear.  These are the people we need to focus upon. They are real leaders.

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The idea of beauty keeps coming into my mind.  What beauty is and what value it should have in our lives.  There are times when it is a stumbling block, if understood in a superficial way.  But there are times when it opens up our souls to things beyond ourselves; things that lift us from the mire and into a place of vision and reward.

Open now thy gates of beauty, 
Zion; let me enter there,
where my soul in joyful duty
waits for One who answers prayer.
Oh, how blessed is this place,
filled with solace, light, and grace!

Gracious God, I come before thee,
come thou also unto me.
Where we find thee and adore thee,
there a heav’n on earth must be.
To my heart O enter thou,
let it be thy temple now.

Speak, O Lord, and I will hear thee;
let thy will be done indeed.
May I undisturbed draw near thee
while thou dost thy people feed.
Here of life the fountain flows,
here is balm for all our woes.

This hymn speaks of the latter kind of beauty and I must say, I love the image of the gates of beauty.  A special passageway into something that is blessed.  The word blessed is one of those that gets tossed around frequently these days.  I’ve heard so many people say they are blessed – because they are successful, healthy, wealthy, lucky…. whatever.  But to me, being blessed is about a sense of relief.  A shift, from being burdened by the many things that weigh us down, to seeking out the spaces where we can see beautiful views.  I’m not convinced it has anything to do with what we have or what we receive, but rather with those magical things that run like currents through our world and remind us of the Divine, of what is good, of what we can never understand. To me, these things make up the land of beauty – that place found when we open the gates.

As I think about the weights of this world – environmental concerns, injustice, sadness, pain, sickness, hatred, stress and many others – I find myself feeling heavy. I’m sure this is common.  I hear people speak of this weariness, of this sense of drowning in the filth.  We have access to so much information that is soul destroying.  And we take it in.  Someone said to me this week that there was no such thing as good news.  It was a kick in the gut – for how does one live with that in their mind?  How do we even begin to create good news when we no longer believe it exists?

But it does. And more and more I am thinking it exists in beauty.  True beauty – that which reflects our most beautiful souls.  The artist’s ability to recollect a lost family member’s presence in the beauty of their painting.  The composer’s notes that transcend our ability to speak and bring us closer to what we feel.  The garden’s ceaseless transition from dormancy into bloom and decay, echoing our own lives with all its stages of loveliness – each one different, each one precious.  The ocean as it moves with a constancy that brings calm reassurance and exciting motion all at the same time.  The grain dancing in the wind in fields that breathe of our nourishment.  The footsteps of those walking beside us that fill the air with a song, when we have nothing left but silence.  The stars, the planets, the comets – the darkness of night that reveals something larger than we can ever imagine.

There is beauty everywhere.  There is simply not enough evil in this world to wipe it out.  Whether we see it or not, it is constant.  When we are able to find it, something happens and we start to see beyond ourselves.  When we look through human history and see bits and pieces of beauty in amongst our horrors, we find hope.  When we take time to look at something beautiful, we start to cherish things differently, to honour them, to protect them.  When we offer a moment of beauty to someone who is so weighed down that they can’t find it themselves, we give a small blessing, a small relief from their pain – sometimes unrecognized, but inserted into their memory to be received when they are able.

Beauty is a powerful thing.  Seeking it is rewarding but so challenging in a world that has defined it in ways that tarnish its depth of importance.  Sharing it is generous and infectious, even if we are afraid to reveal how beautiful we really are.  Surrounding ourselves with it is healing, even when our world remains filled with pain. Finding the beauty that reflects the very best of your soul allows you to enter those gates, and often empowers others to follow.  And in that beauty filled space, the fountain of life flows.