Beauty Hunting

It was approaching dusk on a November afternoon, and I was splitting the last of the logs we cut for firewood, when suddenly the fading light transformed the sky into a suspended ocean of luminous peach and rose, the glow from which caught me off guard.

I could do nothing other than drop my splitting maul and literally stop in my tracks; for a few fleeting moments  all of suburbia was cast in golden brilliance, and my slightly shoddy front yard was transformed into what the Celtic Christians called  “a thin place.”

It beckoned me.

In the midst of an ordinary day I tasted what Lewis hinted at in these words:

We do not want merely to see beauty… we want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.

I cracked open a Pikes Peak Red Ale (the perfect pairing for this moment), and parked myself among the firewood strewn about the yard.  I was still.  I breathed.  I drank the brew and even more, the beauty.  Something inexpressible reached down inside of me and touched me.  Healed me. My soul felt like it was in the hands and care of the most beautiful nurse I had ever seen. She was bandaging my wounds from the battlefield as I found myself instantly pulled fifty yards back from the front lines, if only momentarily, into the safest place I’d ever known.

Beauty Hunting.

It’s become one of the most central spiritual disciplines in my masculine journey.  I can’t take credit for the name—that all goes to my dear sister and true friend, Linsey Lewis Hasenbank, who welcomed me into a real relationship with the living God back in 1994.

Lins lives on a quaint and vibrant farm among the rolling green hills that border Nashville, Tenn., along with her tractor-driving husband, dazzling girls, and an array of animals.

Lins says of Beauty Hunting:

It’s a new way of seeing.

She understands the soul’s desperate need for beauty.  So much so that she invites women on beauty-hunting retreats on their farm… how amazing is that?

The power of beauty to heal, revive, and restore us is one of Father’s most generous provisions in the midst of the angst of this life.

In this world you will have trouble (John 16:33).

I think Jesus gets the prize for the greatest understatement in human history.

Suffering so often presents itself as the major theme.  The vanquisher. The final say.

I can feel its weight upon my own soul: I’m tired of people dying.  I’ve lost too many people I love in this decade.  I’m worn out from my own suffering and the suffering of those I love.

Today is the anniversary of one of my closest allies losing their baby girl after 26 separate stays in the ICU.  Just last month an old cowboy I esteem sat in my office, one last time, to say goodbye.  Cancer was shutting his body down and he was readying his heart and his world for his last great ride.

I get “lose the battle, win the war.”  But how many battles can you lose and keep heart?

As this masculine journey goes deeper and this decade of excavation has its way, I’m finding more and more that only beauty can rescue our hearts as men.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky captures in poignantly in The Brothers Karamazov when he suggests,

Beauty is the battlefield where God and Satan contend with each other for the hearts of men.

Dallas Willard helps bring a deeper understanding of beauty in this definition:

Beauty is God’s goodness made manifest to the senses…. Nothing is more meaningful than beauty.

The day my brother went into brain surgery, my family and I found ourselves in a stunning Japanese garden outside the surgical wing of the hospital. This little sanctuary was wrapped in the elegant afternoon light of a gorgeous autumn day when the surgeon came to find us, giving the soul-shattering news that not only might my brother never talk or recognize us again after he awoke from surgery, but also that he had at most “a year to live.” The contrast of life and death was unbearable.  Each of us in our own space collapsed into the beauty of that garden; we had no other choice. The Father knew only beauty would orient us and fuel us for the battle for his life that stretched before us…

“Only two things pierce the human soul,” Simone Weil wrote, “One is beauty. The other is affliction.” She was right.  Beauty is unique in its power. Not only to pierce the human soul, but even more to unlock it so that Love can come in and hope can win. (Thank you John for the key to open this door through The Sacred Romance)

I’m  a hunter. It’s in my core.  I spend every possible day I can in the field chasing animals with bow and arrow.  There is nothing that moves me more than a crisp September morning in the Colorado Rockies, moving up a rocky crag, glassing for elk and listening for their bugle, the most haunting sound ever rendered in nature.

But more and more I realize it’s not the animals that I’m after.  It’s not even the story.

It’s the beauty that matters most.

Beauty is precious not only in suffering, but also as an antidote for the spirit of our age, the “hurry sickness” of our culture .  Beauty disrupts the torrent of pace and demands and tucks us into an eddy, if only for moments, to breathe and realign our souls with the God who is ever pursuing us.

This week I found myself walking to work one day instead of driving, in order to put myself in proximity to beauty. On another day, I made the long drive across town, abandoning efficiency, in order to go for a swim.  Not purely for a workout.  But to feel the water.  To glide.  For moments to be swept up in this foretaste of open ocean and the wonder of what must come in Eternity, when we will swim and be at home.

Last night I put my daughter to sleep and walked out of her room as usual.  But then I paused, walked backed in that I might behold her beauty and watch this little creation who is growing so fast. Last night she was forever six.  And perfect.  I touched her skin, I watched her breathe. I thanked God that He would entrust her wide and wild and tender heart to my care.

I pulled into work yesterday and noticed the sunrise.  Instead of marching in and plugging myself into the email-I.V.-port,  I sat. I turned my phone off—no tether. And then I watched. I breathed. I worshipped. I drank in the creation story again, as if for the first time.

Macdonald is right: every sunrise does speak of His resurrection.

And of course the most central and significant battle for beauty in a man’s life: the beauty.  Whether it be my woman or another, it’s a trap.  She’s not enough. She was never meant to be.  A glimpse, of course. Part, you bet.  Few things move me more than watching my wife walk, seeing her radiant smile, touching her skin. But still, it’s not enough. Not even close.

The need is infinite. To put that on her is not only unkind, but dangerous. And it is only in putting my heart in proximity to the Beauty I long for beyond the beauty I long for in her, that she is actually freed to be what God intended her to be… (Thank you Buechner for that sage advice.)

Beauty heals.

Beauty restores.

Beauty allows mystery to triumph over reason.

Beauty beckons us onward, upward, and keeps us from setting our gaze on merely a “happy, comfortable life” in this world.

Beauty fills the ache of disappointments and casts a light on the narrow road again and again.

Beauty is available.

And I’m finding the more war I fight, the more beauty I need.

Right here.

Right now.

Pray for it.

Look for it.

Let it come to you.

Sky

This morning I was heading out for work and the Father said, “walk today.”  So in the darkness and the crisp winter air, I headed out.  With Kari Jobe’s Here on repeat, I was swept up into beauty no money can buy. I found myself seated on a barren hillside, watching the sun pierce the darkness and set the sky ablaze.  My heart nearly leapt out of my chest as the beauty of God washed over me through the sunrise, the worship and intimacy with God sneaking up on me as miraculously as the Red Sea parting.

It is available.  Today. Put yourself in its path and wait for it to come and lead you by the hand deeper into the more your Father is deeply wanting to bring.

Father, open my heart to see it.  Holy Spirit, I give You permission to disrupt my life and put me in the path of beauty. Beautiful Jesus, I join my heart with David and cry out, “one thing I ask of You, Jesus, and this is what I seek: to see Your Beauty.”

Father, I confess my need for beauty has gone unattended.  In its depletion, I’ve reached to so many places and things to fill it.  Mostly I reach to her. Forgive me for putting too much expectation on my wife to be all the beauty that my heart needs as a man. I know somewhere deeper still that Eve, the embodiment of all women, was never meant to be the beauty but rather the messenger of it.  I need the real thing. I need the deepest thing. What does it look like for me to put my heart in the path of beauty?

I know I must break the agreements I have made with efficiency as the path of life.  You are “gloriously wasteful” in your work.  Where does my commitment to efficiency at all costs come from?  Jesus, I invite You into that.  What are the other agreements I have made with lies about where Life is found and how to make it last. I pause. I listen. I wait… Jesus, I break these and every agreement I have made. I agree with you. I agree with you in my body, my soul and my spirit.

I pause. I breathe in. I breathe out.  Search my heart. What is holding me back from the risk of bringing my need before You?  What is in the way of prioritizing a life and a lifestyle by which I am nourished by Your beauty?  I ask that You would open heaven and bring more beauty into my heart. Open my eyes to see Your Beauty. You have my attention.  Come. I ask, I seek, I knock.  Now, I choose to listen. Amen.

Where will you look for beauty?  How will you open yourself up today?  If you need starting place, take a sunrise or sunset walk, or sit with all the lights out, and let some beautiful music awaken your heart to Beauty…

You might try:

Pete Ohlin’s Majestic Rain

Kari Jobe’s Here

George Winston’s December

or many more listed in the worship suggestions

Let Your Life Speak

Parker Palmer has written one of the most honest, provocative and truly helpful books regarding vocation.  While taking a brutally candid journey through his battle with depression, he leads us along the narrow road, coaching us through “listening” to our lives as the primary path to discover and walk in our vocation.  And in doing so, he not only identifies the ability of our potential to guide us, but even more, our limitations.  While I differ in a few categories (like the unfortunate reality he is a pacifist), the wisdom and sage-ness of Life fought for and cultivated through suffering earns my deepest respect and admiration.  Palmer takes a candid and accessible approach into the honest journey from the false self to the true self.  It’s a book laden with depth, breadth, and guideposts to help us find our way home when we are lost at sea.

Remembering

I was amazed.

God had done so much.

Yet what amazed me even more was this: God had done so much that I had already forgotten.

Holy Spirit had prompted me to carve out two hours to sit and soak in our family pictures from 2013.  As I did, my heart was literally revived, remembering all the moments of Truth, Beauty and Goodness that swept us up deeper into His heart and His Life over the past year.

How quickly we forget.  Blasting forward.

Moving onto the next thing.

Always moving.

Always reaching.

So rarely pausing to absorb what He has already brought to our hearts.

John captures it brilliantly in his  workbook for Desire, when he writes:

Impatience is a dangerous thing when it comes to interior journeys, spiritual quests, pilgrimages of the soul. For in these journeys we must cover the miles step-by-step, feeling the terrain as we pass through it, responding to its challenges. There is no rushing this; there are no shortcuts. But that is what makes it so beautiful and dangerous and wonderful. We don’t snap a few photos and rush on; rather, we are changed by our travels. I think C. H. Spurgeon had this in mind when he warned that a pilgrim will be better served “by one book thoroughly mastered than by twenty books he has merely skimmed. Little learning and much pride come of hasty reading.” Or hasty travel, we might add.

In that spirit, before moving ahead into the new, I wanted to invite you to dive into some notable blog posts from the past year.  If they are new to you, I invite you to be nourished by your God, who loves to bring personal and particular gifts to your heart as His son.  If you have visited them before, I encourage you to exercise the act of remembering.  Turning away from the “hasty reading” to which Spurgeon alludes and instead, asking the Holy Spirit to highlight a few and then drink deeply again. Savor, explore, ponder.  Let what God is saying personally to you find its home more deeply in your heart,  that you might find your home even more deeply in your God…

Enjoy.