To see beauty so definitively
“I am going to get you back for all these pictures when I am there next month." So responded one daughter on WhatsApp on Monday, as she anticipated her own holiday in Tenerife this coming half term.
There are all kinds of reasons for going to Tenerife in January: to enjoy the sunshine and to build up our step count through walking the prom. However, for me – particularly in this age of instant communication – there is the bonus of making our daughters jealous!
So I regularly send them photos of us in bright sunshine with vivid blue skies, garlanded with all the primary colours. And in response they send me their photos, such as the daughter from the opening paragraph huddled in the cold and drizzle watching our grandson play football through darkening skies.
I realise, of course, that my behaviour is both infantile and insensitive, to say the least, but at the same time hugely enjoyable.
In fact, early on Wednesday morning I paused during my morning run along the promenade to take a photo of my very long shadow cast by the sun rising so low in the sky.
In response another daughter immediately sent a photo of her early morning run through a snow covered park in Cheshire, rippled in the sunlight with clouds of varying hues of light.
As it happens our other daughters were doing the same, taking photos of wherever they happened to be, seeing the beauty in their surroundings: a sunset in the local park, atmospheric photos of the early morning mist over frost covered fields. Less primary colours but russets with other tertiary colours.
It’s a good discipline to notice the beauty around us, to appreciate the world where we are rather than where we would want to be. We need to learn to appreciate, to hone our senses even to pick up on things that we otherwise would not see. But not just in the physical world but in the whole of life.
“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful,” mused Ralph Waldo Emerson, “for beauty is God's handwriting.”
This is one of the key themes of the Bible, to see God’s beauty. In fact, the Psalmist made this his number one priority:
“One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)
This is a discipline, a resolve to see God in the most unlikely of places and especially in the most improbable of people. There is so much that would grab our attention but we need the Holy Spirit’s help to be able to discern God’s beauty from the world’s glamour.
So we simply ask God to open our eyes; in the words of the apostle Paul, the eyes of our hearts. So the apostle prays that his readers may be able to see what God is showing them: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” (Ephesians 1:18).
And we need open eyes not only to appreciate the beauty of God in his world but to see the challenge set before us, one we would naturally shy away from.
For Jesus challenged his disciples – and challenges us - to see the world in a new light. “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:35). When God opens our eyes, we see his Kingdom – in all its potential.
Often this may be in the most surprising of places, in the most unlikely of people. We can rush through life not even noticing those small seedlings beginning to grow right in front of our eyes. So easily our eyes glaze over.
And yet is the essence of Christian ministry, of being able to notice those small shoots of the Kingdom for this is the beauty of God at work. And we need to encourage each other, to point out new possibilities in the strangest of places. For so often we see God where we least expect to find him.
So where would we gaze on the beauty of the Lord? Where would we see the utter beauty of God so completely, so definitively that all other beauties would utterly shy away in comparison?
The last place on earth: Golgotha.
For here we see a man abandoned and abused, deserted and denied; an innocent man being tortured to death. Here we see the completeness of God’s love, his faithfulness totally fulfilled, his willingness to pay whatever the cost to secure our freedom. We see God.
As Jonny Diaz sings:
The beauty of the cross is that
There's One who has redeemed my soul
Beauty of the cross is that I'm finally free and letting go
Beauty of the cross is that Your grace has found me just as I am
Yeah, just as I am
That's the beauty of the cross