Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do

Sermon: Let the Beauty we Love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground. -Rumi

Susan Baller-Shepard

Come Holy Spirit Come

Good Morning.

Thank you for inviting me to join you in worship this morning.

I’m going to share some words, reflections, then hand the microphone to hear your thoughts.

When Susan and Bob invited me and told me your theme for the month,

I said yes immediately.

I think beauty is often underrated within the Christian community

In terms of helping us spiritually, beauty can inspire us and fill us with awe

 

Flowers do that for me, the depth of texture and color,

Birds do that, the artistry of the feathers and bird calls and the fact

A Lyre Bird in Australia can mimic any of the sounds around her like a camera shutter,

Or a chain saw?

Sunsets where the sky blends orange and red and pink and yellow in such a way

That your jaw simply drops open? We want to knee and kiss the ground.

 

What is this craziness? This holiness?

Who is this Creator that all of these things should come together in such ways that human beings stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon and say, “Wow,” or

hold a newborn and say, “How can this be? This new one here?” as the starfish hands reach out and the teeny tiny baby toes, and eyes that look at us with trust?

 

Visual Beauty.

 

It has the capacity to draw us closer to the Divine, to fill our hearts and souls

So full that we utter prayers of wonder, or we’re left speechless.

What about those things that fill us with awe and wonder but aren’t visually beautiful? Isaiah asks,

53 Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.

—Isaiah 53:1-3 NRSV

He had no form or majesty that we should look at him,

Nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

Beauty that inspires our souls, may or may not have physical beauty attached to it.

My friend João Magueijo is a theoretical physicist, a cosmologist, and in a lecture one time I heard him say, “With the Grand Unified Theory, and other theories of the universe, people want them to be beautiful. What if they aren’t beautiful.”

His comment made me think that the most beautiful things can be messy too.

The lotus flower is used as a symbol in religious traditions because it’s beautiful but it has its roots in the muck.

Ecclesiastes (3:11) says, “God has made everything beautiful in its time. God has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

And, author Leo Tolstoy wrote, “It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.” (The Kreutzer Sonata)

Today, as we continue to think about the theme of beauty, let’s consider the beauty of words….

What words have meant a great deal to you?

What words have sustained you?

I’ll start with how I fell in love with words.

How they held my attention.

How I found an end to them.

When I was a child, my Grandma Mabel used to wash the dishes with scalding hot water. I’d always dry because I couldn’t handle the hotness of the water, but it made her small kitchen into a sauna with all the steam. Grandma Mabel loved a good bakery, and she’d always have a kitchen full of Jaarsma’s bakery breads. In this warm, soapy, bread-scented kitchen, after supper, after all the dishes were dried and put away, she’d recite poems to me that she’d memorized as a young girl. She’d started teaching school when she was 16. had to quit teaching when she got pregnant with her first child, but she’d memorized dozens and dozens of poems which she’d recite. She knew The Song of Hiawatha, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a poem she knew by heart,

On the shores of Gitche Gumee,

Of the shining Big-Sea-Water,

Stood Nokomis, the old woman,

Pointing with her finger westward,

O’er the water pointing westward,

To the purple clouds of sunset….

or the poem “In School-days” by John Greenleaf Whittier, a poem about a little girl who passes her friend in a spelling contest, she later tells him:

“I’m sorry that I spelt the word:

I hate to go above you,

Because,”—the brown eyes lower fell,—

“Because, you see, I love you!”

 

Still memory to a gray-haired man

That sweet child-face is showing.

Dear girl! the grasses on her grave

Have forty years been growing!

 

He lives to learn, in life’s hard school,

How few who pass above him

Lament their triumph and his loss,

Like her—because they love him.

__________________

 

I mean, come on.

 

An old man looking back on his school days missing

a young girl who loved him with a pureness of heart

that’s he’s been hard pressed to find ever since?

 

In high school, I began to read the Hebrew Scriptures and the Psalms, and noticed the language there, the loveliness of the language

 

Even youths will faint and be weary,

and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint. —Isaiah 40:30-31 NRSV

 

And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove!

I would fly away and be at rest;

truly, I would flee far away;

I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah

I would hurry to find a shelter for myself

from the raging wind and tempest.”—Psalm 55:6-8 NRSV

 

and college brought the Bard, speaking of tempests,

 

William Shakespeare’s Caliban in The Tempest says,

“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,

Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.

Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments

Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices

That, if I then had waked after long sleep,

Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,

The clouds methought would open and show riches

Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,

I cried to dream again.” —

 

Wow.

Sometimes we have to grow into these works, over time they grow into us, these savored pieces of language become intertwined with our DNA.

They take up residence within us…in a hundred ways—

 

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, said,

“This is what poets are paid for.

I mean to look at clouds, watch chipmunks,

someone has to keep an eye on these things”

 

In describing the writing of poetry Collins says,

“A poem often has two subjects,

a starting subject and then the discovery subject,

The poem wants to leave the object and go beyond to something greater.”

 

“A poem often has two subjects,

a starting subject and then the discovery subject,

The poem wants to leave the object and go beyond to something greater.”

 

This is what faith can ask of us too,

To travel from a starting subject to a discovery subject,

To go beyond to something greater,

to seek to move toward something/SomeOne beyond,

greater than ourselves, or a concept beyond the concept of merely me/myself/and I,

to a concept of Us—

 

I mentioned the end of language.

As beautiful and stunning as language can be,

There are times when we can fall wordless, we can move beyond

A language, which is why I love the notion that God, when giving God’s

Name to Moses, gives an unpronounceable name, YHWH.

Sometimes the Divine is too big for words.

Sometimes Life is too big for words.

 

I could go on and on about the beauty of language and words,

Or about those moments that supersede language, but I wanted to add this:

 

The beauty of words is they have the power to build up,

Take a moment to think of when that’s happened for you?

 

As followers of Christ, we want to be about that upbuilding, that supporting.

 

Two stories:

 

We were on a long, organized bike trip.

Once, when climbing a very steep hill, I was huffing and puffing and working hard. It took everything in me to keep going forward.

Someone, who had decided to walk their bike and not ride up it

shouted out to me, “What are you trying to prove?”

 

at that instance, hearing those words, I lost all focus, all energy, I about fell off the bike.

I went from focus, energized, ready to go after that hill,

to zapped, deflated.

This too is the power of words.

To injure, harm, deflate.

To take power from.

I hate to think of the times I’ve done this to others, with the power of words.

Barnabas, in Acts, is described as an encourager, and the word for that comes from the Greek paraklēseōs para-klee-sos where we get the word for the Holy Spirit, “paraclete,” and this word means encouragement, consolation, comfort, exhortation, and entreaty

So, my second story is about Kathleen Flaherty, encourager.

It was 7pm. I was in college, had not started a term paper due the next day. I was beside myself.

Kathleen looked at me and said, “You can do this. Start now. You can so do this.”

 

She and I put our typewriters back to back and we typed all night. She worked on something she had to get done, but mostly, she stayed up to encourage me. All night.

I got the paper done. I turned it in.

When I got back to the apartment I thanked her for her support.

She started laughing, “I didn’t think you had a chance to get that paper done, not a chance, but I wasn’t going to tell you that.”

“No, but you told me, all night, that I could do it.”

“Yea, but I didn’t think you could,” she replied.

We still laugh about it, but I still am grateful because it showed me the power of someone offering words of encouragement when I needed them.

We read in the very first written work of the New Testament chronologically, which is 1 Thessalonians, we read in chapter 5: 11,

“Therefore encourage one another and build up each other,

as indeed you are doing.”

 

May we find ways to be encouragers, may we find words

To lift others up.

“Let the Beauty we Love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”

Amen.

 

I’d like to hear from you now—

*Have beautiful words helped you get closer to God in your life?

*Words that have uplifted you in your life?

*Do you use a mantra that lifts you?

*What helps you get beyond the negative words from others?

* Who or what are the paraklēseōs in your life, offering encouragement, consolation, comfort, exhortation, entreaty?

*How do you reflect on God in the midst of beauty? Are you struck wordless, or what words come to mind?

*”A poem often has two subjects, a starting subject and then the discovery subject, the poem wants to leave the object and go beyond to something greater.” Has a piece of literature or poetry led you to feeling closer to God?

To feeling like you’ve moved beyond to something greater?

*Other reflections on beauty as a theme, as you’ve been reflecting on it this month?

–Susan Baller-Shepard

Preached September 15, 2019 at New Covenant Community, Normal, IL