Between the new book and being part of an event next month called Brave Beauty, my mind has been filled with thoughts about beauty. I adore the subject, partly because I spend a lot of my days plowing around in the underbelly of lives in the counseling office, and party because I love how unpredictable beauty is. For example, I could never have predicted the laughter waiting for me after a long counseling day, when I witnessed a squirrel jump on – no, JUMP ON – one of our chickens. This ambush was one of the most hilarious things I have ever seen. That fuzzy-tailed scoundrel rode that bird like he was in a rodeo until the poor traumatized fowl could shake him off. It was beautiful.
Beauty is one of the most mysterious and misunderstood realities in life. Of course it is - beauty entices our hearts back, and beyond. It beckons us back to the original intent (which invites us to grieve what is missing), and beyond to a place which transcends the mess. Simon Weil was dead on when she wrote that beauty and affliction are the two things which can pierce our hearts. It is what loneliness, a turquoise Lazuli Bunting bird, and Hatch Blue Corn Chile Enchiladas all have in common: they consistently draw me to life. Beauty pierces us as much as everything that invades beauty – both invite us to a level of courage we never knew we had.
Beautiful courage is seen in a woman who carries the secret shame of touch from an uncle, who tends to her garden but also fights legislatively for the rights of those caught in slavery. It can be found in a woman who has left evangelical culture, holding a deep sorrow for the pressure she found there when she knows it was to offer her abundant life. Equally it is seen in the woman who chooses to join a church because she wants to understand the bible better - she just wants to know God. It shows up in a woman who is discovering the healing that comes from blessing every part of her body, thanking it for all it has suffered and experienced. And in the woman who laughs uproariously during a good movie, playfully slapping her embarrassed son. It is in a tired mother of three who climbs into bed next to a man with whom she holds piercing disappointment, who climbs out the next morning to greet the sunrise with sun salutations in solidarity with her tender ache. In the woman who schemes a special getaway for her husband. The woman who holds her tongue. The woman who speaks her mind.
Beautiful choices and brave living are as unique as fingerprints – but we recognize them if we have an eye for them; if we cast off our judgments of another woman’s path and turn with kindness in acknowledgment of all we don’t know of her; if we turn with kindness toward our own frailty.
As I wrote recently in the new book:
"Beauty shows up in a family tradition, a spontaneous song on a quiet morning in bed, or when we laugh at the sight of a hummingbird’s bomber-like descent only to come to rest on a spindle of a blossom. It appears as we feel the elbow of the Spirit in our ribs as we catch ourselves in our most practiced prideful arrogance. It tips its hand as we weep sweet tears when we remember an exquisite grace granted to us during a lonely time. Beauty is different for everyone. It also lingers in the bottle-filled room when a woman allows herself to admit the alcohol is not big enough to hold her heart, or as a friend said recently, “I’m just out of stuff that works.” It pushes its way through the pulse of techno-music and comes to rest in the thoughts of the girl who realizes that the guy’s thrusting toward her on the dance floor was more about her body and fantasy than it was about a genuine curiosity about who she is. She drives home alone, aching but beautiful."
It goes on to say:
“I have tried hard to be beautiful. I’ve tried to talk myself into the truth that I am beautiful. I have tried to rouse my heart, to cheer lead myself toward something good. May I say it again? It doesn’t work. My beauty— the original glory placed in me like a fingerprint— has to be restored. As we will explore, there’s much at war within you— many things that combat the glory of God. Our beauty has been ignored, mocked, violated, manipulated, and harmed. And in turn, we betray our own beauty— we attempt to erase, diminish and even abuse our own beauty. You can’t change your heart through sheer will. We must allow the original image to be unveiled, allow the original glory to rise, again and again.Thankfully the image of God within you refuses to ever be completely erased,and thankfully the stunning grace of God when you are brutal with yourself and those you love never dies. True beauty comes and finds us and laughs that we were looking the other way.”
Jan Meyers Proett (2013-07-15). Beauty and the Bitch: Grace for the Worst in Me (Kindle Locations 130-137). Bondfire Books. Kindle Edition.
When do you feel most beautiful? We (my publisher and I) are going to gather responses to that question so that we can all see the myriad ways beauty shows up in our complicated, difficult, precious lives. Be thinking about it. We’ll gather the responses the week of September 16!