by Charles LaFond
What would it be like to rest, play and observe beauty as a sacramental set of acts?
Can not beauty liquefy the hardness of fear, detoxify the acid of greed, and buttress the hope of re-imagining? Could what our church needs be not new plans but ancient beauty? Am I the only one in our beloved church – this Body-of-Christ we call Episcopalians (well, part of the body at least)… am I the only one who senses deep anxiety in the system? Some of it is due to repression, mostly sensual – people are starved of touch – especially men, often too butch or insecure to welcome it. And then there is all the fear about money in our culture and our church. Liturgists are going berserk as young people want the Eucharist as much under trees and in forest glades as in church-castles. And then there is the generational shift we see happening as Millennials and their youngers demand changes from a church led by the hemorrhoidal ancient of days.
So what if we stopped gathering simpering committees on church future and just lived our lives better? What if Jesus just wants us to see rather than reform? What if a pause is better than a new church-plan? What if a flower, a tea bowl, and a rock are as powerful images as a gold cross? (gold…. really!? I still have no idea how to explain that to Jesus!)
Jesus seems to be inviting me to take off my clericals and relax a bit. It frightens me because sometimes my clericals are my defense against the world – and I am not alone there either.
Last week I found that I had nothing scheduled in my calendar from 12:30-1:30 on a Wednesday. I remember being confused by the space. What do I do? Should I not be having lunch with a parishioner? Should I do work on next year’s taxes? Should I dust my office? Should I fill the space with emails so that the people who have emailed me are happy with my quick response? Should I write the next case brochure? Should I begin work on next week’s sermon? Should I meditate so that I am centered and very zen-ish?
These questions, appearing in my mind in the rapid succession of a machine gun, cause me to wonder about my life. And I also wonder if I am really so alone in this or if many are like me – over-committed, over-stimulated, over-scheduled, over-caffeinated, over-worked and over-anxious about the church’s future?
Why do we, as a culture, not talk about this more, together? Perhaps we are simply so busy that we do not have time to get together and “co-miser-ate” (feel misery together) about how busy and over-tired we are? Perhaps we use busy-ness to not-feel our pain…as anesthesia against our broken marriages, sagging breasts, unfulfilling jobs, emaciated friendships, fear about our money…the list is endless. And if it is so – that we do not talk about busy-ness because we are so busy, well, is that not a vicious cycle? It must make Satan giggle like the evil school-girl on Little House on the Prairie.
That day in which I found a free, unscheduled hour, my immediate reaction was to fill it with church admin – papers, plans, edicts, memos, emails, reports, pontifications about the future of the church (about which I know absolutely NOTHING!) But I know my friends and advisors would encourage me to do something which would delight me – really delight me. And then I thought I should walk Kai, my English black lab, and even Kai seemed to have a “relax, go have some fun” look on his wise, old face. Or I projected. Or both.
So, I put my phone on DND, closed the lap top, left my cell phone in my desk drawer, kissed Kai on the forehead, and walked down the street to the Denver Art Museum for an hour. I went to the fifth floor, and eased into the Asian Art Collection the way a hospital patient eases into a hot bath to loosen muscles after an accident.
I wandered from tea bowl, to vase, from wall hanging to Buddha, from painted screen to incense bowl – bits of beauty behind glass. I could see the feminine curve of a vase. I could see the way a tea bowl sloped so elegantly to such a strong foot – perfectly carved by the potter a hundred years ago in the backwoods of China. How many people in his village ate sweet rice from this bowl before it was discovered for its great beauty, washed and sent to this museum?
This was a short Sabbath – an hour – but it was indeed Holy while being in no way churchy. And the next day, when called to the bedside of a frightened, dying woman I was rested and I was my best-priest-self.
What would life be like if we spent more time with beauty? I mean walked to it. I mean sought it out. I mean spent fifteen minutes with one tea bowl just staring at it? Beauty will be defined by us all differently. But I wonder about television, internet surfing, and YouTube cat videos. Why was I all alone on the entire floor, in the museum, during a lunch hour, when the building is surrounded by thousands of souls in offices in every direction?
We keep assuming that when Jesus went up the mountains early in the morning, it was to pray. Pious, yes. Likely, yes. But what if Jesus spent only one hour praying and the other on his chest with his nose three inches from a wildflower or a sparkly rock in utter amazement and gratitude?