Friday, November 9, 2012

Chasing Beauty

Our hearts can be ugly places.

The fight against bitterness, anger, despair, lust, pride, and fear leaves us torn, more like a warzone than the lighthouses our hearts were meant to be-- more like the reactionary sea than the smooth depths of the sky. I think we lose ourselves sometimes in that fight, in that ever-busy attempt to escape the clutter we have collected or the stains that have been painted on us by an equally busy world. Maybe getting lost in introspection, in obsessive self-examination and despair at what we find, is a trademark of the artist. Maybe it is a mark more widespread than that. Regardless, I find myself there often.

This year I learned I had two options: I could let the stone of my heart soften and learn how to soak in grace, or I could let it go completely cold and die. So I seek to soften my heart, even when it means bleeding. And a part of that has been an increasing fight to see beauty, to recognize it.

I learned something a long time ago in the worst days of depression: when you wake up in the morning too crippled to get out of bed, name one thing in life that is beautiful, one thing that gives you cause for hope. It’s harder than it sounds, when you’re in the thick of it and everything inside is a wasteland. It’s a discipline I had to train myself into. Many days, the only thing I could think of to name was my converse, but that was enough. It was one beautiful thing that pulled me outside myself and gave me a taste of gratitude.

We need to remember that there are beautiful things. We need to see them and name them. Maybe because it pulls us outside of ourselves, maybe because the existence of beautiful things gives us hope for our own hearts, so wayward, so reckless, yet slowly being shaped, molded-- made beautiful. I think this is why I am a photographer. I started photography my freshman year of college, in a time when I desperately needed to believe there were still beautiful things in the world. I would go on long walks with my camera over the campus that I hated, forcing myself to stop at details, to capture them, to see beauty.

That has been more important than ever before these past few months. Instagram has become a tool for capturing it, for forcing my eyes to see. Sometimes I write lists of things I saw that day that were beautiful, lists that to other eyes might look strange-- things like the way a favorite singer’s voice climbs to perfectly fill out a high note, the contrast of houses raised high on a ridge against a pale sky, watching two strangers talk like friends on facebook, hearing a brief sentence from someone that shows their heart is brave even in the midst of pain, seeing someone laugh in the tired ordinary of a grocery store. These are beautiful things. I write them down, I let them pull me outside myself. I walk out the door to work at 6:45 early in the morning, see the sun rising all red-gold with the splendor of autumn leaves, and I open my hands and say thank you.

Because for me, that is the necessary response, the part that seals it. I do not belong to the aesthetic school of thought that praises beauty for beauty’s sake. I hear in it an echo of this Grace that pours through the cracks, floods the warzone, fills out the shadows. I hear God echoing through my world, and I say thank you. These beautiful things are not deserved or necessary, but they still show up in my life in a riot of color and song. Gratitude is often the most effective way to pull myself beyond the snare of the shadows.

Some days I don’t have a spark in me left to start a fire, to warm the cold, to clear the cobwebs of a world spinning in the dark. But if I can open my eyes to see one thing-- one beautiful thing in this whole world of contrast-- then there is hope. Grace is still here. Redemption still has stories to tell.

- Elraen -

P.S. I don't often recommend books, but I would highly recommend Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. That book shaped and solidified much of my view on gratitude and grace.

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