Thursday, September 20, 2012

Expanding Beauty

I grew up loving the outdoors. Apparently, when I was about 8, I told my mom, "All I want when I grow up is a big yard with a horse and a dog." I remember flipping through pictures of the Northwest on a calendar in my grandparents' house around age 12 and reeling with excitement because I felt that I'd found the place I would live one day. 

Now, at the ripe old age of 24, I can see that what excited me about the calendar pictures wasn't that I'd found a plot of land I wanted to buy, but that I'd come into contact with beauty and it moved me. I got the same feeling again and again-- driving through the mountains, walking on the beach, sitting on a picnic blanket under a live oak tree. When I lived in Princeton, I experienced the sensation almost year round because every season was breathtaking. My personal bias, however, is for fall:

O WORLD, I cannot hold thee close enough!
      Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
      Thy mists that roll and rise
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!
Long have I known a glory in it all,
      But never knew I this
      Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart. Lord, I do fear
Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year.
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

If you don't live in a place where these words make sense, let this picture give you an idea:  

Getting to live in the midst of such beauty was like my 12 year old dream come true-- I wasn't just imagining it from a photograph-- I was smelling it, feeling it, tasting it. It was like a spa for the soul.

Four years later, God called us to Dallas. Anyone familiar with its terrain knows it looks nothing like the above photograph. In fact, almost every season looks pretty much the same: like highways and skyscrapers. There's just not a lot of nature to complement the concrete here, and what is here doesn't usually get featured in calendars. In the last six months, God called us even deeper into the heart of the concrete jungle, and we now live in a highrise downtown. The few tree-lined streets and grassy knolls we had living in North Dallas have been usurped by construction cones and train stations. I was not expecting it, but my heart took a hit our first few months there. Like being dehydrated, I felt desperately thirsty for trees, sky, and the absence of city lights. A mid-summer breakdown led us to a country home for a weekend where my plan was "to stare out the window at cows" without a deadline.  

God has provided (and is providing!) respite for me from the city, and giving me ways to access and enjoy the beauty my heart longs for. But He is also expanding my definition of beauty. See, I've realized that I enjoy what God has created (mountains, trees, seasons) because it reveals His character-- His beauty-- to me. But He's reminded me that nothing reflects Him more than humanity, which He made in His image. And nothing reveals His heart more than His love for them. Lately, He's been inviting me to see and enjoy His beauty not protected and isolated in a peaceful countryside, but reaching in and making contact with the very city that is itself so deficient of it. He's invited me to be moved by the way He chooses to bathe humanity in beauty by bringing it to those who may not even know they need it. He's reminded me that He is a God who doesn't wait for us to go find Him, but who reaches down to find us-- a God who "moves into our neighborhood", no matter how dirty, noisy, or treeless it is. In fact, He's given me a front row view.

If you don't live in a place where these words make sense, let this picture give you an idea:

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