Small Glimpses of Beauty



A few years ago the BBC broadcaster Michael Ford spoke with John O’Donohue, the remarkable Irish poet whose book Anam Cara made the author’s name famous worldwide.  Writing in Spiritual Masters For All Seasons about his encounter with O’Donohue, Ford remembers the poet’s thoughts about beauty in the world.  “Beauty had become confused with glamour.  Glamour was a multibillion dollar industry that thrived on dislocating or unhousing people from their own bodies and transferring all the longing toward the perfection of image.  Glamour was insatiable because it lacked interiority.”  

Ford continued:  “Beauty was a more sophisticated and substantial presence with an eternal heart — a threshold place where the ideal and the real touched each other.  People on the bleakest frontiers of desolation, deprivation, and poverty were often sustained by small glimpses of beauty.”

Beauty is not about exterior decoration.  It’s about seeing beyond or through the facade, seeing with clarity and deep appreciation.  It’s about “birds of the air and lilies of the field.”  It’s about mystery and awe and wonder.  And many of us are “sustained by small glimpses of beauty.”

Haiku To You!

The last thing I ever imagined doing is writing Japanese Haiku.  I didn’t even know what it was until the other day when I stumbled upon the word and decided to explore its meaning.  So, inspired by the beautiful mountains and the peaceful coastline in Oregon, I took pen in hand.

Trust me.  Haiku is not easy.  But who thought this classical, ancient form of Japanese poetry would be simple?  Well, me, of course.

Haiku consists of three lines, each with a precise structure so that the final product has seventeen syllables and addresses some aspect of duality.  Impressed?  The key, according to those who really know, is the juxtaposition of opposites in a thought, like: up versus down; beauty vs. ugliness; good vs. evil.  Things like that.  So, in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, transfixed by huge oak trees, I noticed the abundance of moss creeping up tree trunks and clinging to stately limbs.  I said to myself:  moss is a parasite and it will eventually damage the tree, so here is my duality:  good vs. bad; life vs. death.  Haiku, here I come!

Why do so many of us rush into new adventures ill prepared?  Why do Westerners, in particular, assume everything is quickly accomplished and easily done?  “It’s a snap,” we say and then set out to accomplish something for which we are poorly prepared or about which we are completely ignorant.  I’ve been know to call repairmen and plumbers to correct the mistakes I made after having attempted to repair a gadget or a widget that I knew nothing about.  The same principle applies to Haiku.

So, I resolve to be slow and diligent in my relationship with this ancient tradition.  Patience.  Study.  Practice.  More patience.  Humility.  A willingness to learn.  Acceptance of the reality that sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t.  These are wonderful principles to bear in mind when one steps into the unknown.

And those same principles work pretty well, too, when applied to the spiritual journey that so many of us pursue.

No, you can’t read my Haiku.

On The Mountain – “Savoring”

I drove recently through the Sierra Nevada mountains on the way to a holiday in northwest Oregon.  Coming from the Sonoran Desert and flat Southern California, it didn’t take long for the stunning beauty of the mountains to soften the tensions of cross-country driving.  Rugged cliffs, towering pines, flowery meadows…all of it swirled around me and held out arms of welcome.  I savored it.

Savor.  That’s an interesting word.  Savor means to find delight in a particular taste or smell, or, possibly, delight in the luxurious sights of majestic landscape.  I savored the miles and the moments.

Now, having arrived at the one-room cabin overlooking the Willamette Valley, I’m doing it again.  Night is quietly settling over the valley below and the Coastal Range of mountains on the far horizon is beginning to fade into the soft haze.  Large glass windows make up one wall of the cabin and through those windows I look out over a grassy, green lawn, then across the tops of grape vines planted in neat vineyard rows, then beyond the tops of tall pines, and finally into the hazy valley that is surrendering to the darkness.  I’m savoring again.

I’m thinking, too, of a friend who would look at the same landscape and conclude that this same world is heading toward destruction, that ugliness reigns everywhere, and that all this, plus all that lives in it, must be saved for a better life in the future.  And while I agree with part of the premise…there’s enough ugliness to go around…I am more and more persuaded that “savoring” is just as important as “saving”.  Those of us who wear religious or spiritual labels understand the “saving” language in our traditions, but what we too often overlook is the pure joy, even the transformative joy, of savoring the unspeakable grandeur of creation’s gifts.  I wonder if “savoring” might accomplish the same end as “saving” if we put our hearts and minds to it?

By the way, a synonym for “savor” is to relish, to smack one’s lips in pure delight.

Listen carefully.  Did you hear that?  It was me smacking my lips!