Today’s Beauty Theme is Spring

I have finals over the course of the next two weeks, so most of my time will be taken up with my primary vocation and study. I then get a month off from classes, so I will begin writing regularly then. It will be Easter, so there will be plenty of material. Until then I will just post beautiful images that I find in order to focus on God’s beauty and goodness. The vernal equinox began last Friday, so for today, I will share pictures of spring from around the Internet. I hope you have a very blessed Passiontide.

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The Need for Wonder

“We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”

G.K. Chesterton

I have written a bit about beauty and how God woos us through his secondary causes. Today I want to write about wonder. The two go hand-in-hand. Wonder is something that children do quite naturally. The world is new, so every new, and even old, discovery leads the child to excitement, joy, and wonder. As adults we can have a tendency to look at a child’s wonder in apathy. We may scoff internally that it is only a rock, flower, worm, or tree. It is something that we have seen numerous times and so it bores us. Who has it right? I say the child.

In Fundamental Theology we learn that the theologian uses a variety of things to study God. It is described as three concentric circles. The outer layer is Everything. Yes, everything. Anything in the universe can provoke theological study, insight, and a greater understanding of God. Catholicism marries natural theology (that God can be known through reason in a limited capacity) and Revelation (what God has revealed about Himself through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition). The contemplation of a tree, for instance, can lead to a deeper understanding and love of God. The next circle is Sacred History (or Tradition). The Church has been around nearly 2000 years, so there is a deep pool (hence the name of my blog) of knowledge that can be used to grow in a deeper understanding of God. In the very center is Sacred Scripture. The Word of God to us. Throughout our lives we will travel between all three of the circles.

Theologians tend to have a natural capacity to wonder. In order to desire going deeper in knowledge of God there needs to be an element of awe and desire to know more; however, this capacity can be cultivated by all Christians with practice. The primary barrier to wonder is distraction. If we are too busy and lost in our thoughts or tasks all of the time then it is impossible to see the world around us. This is the same if we do not take the time to study our Faith and Sacred Scripture. We cannot wonder at God if we do not spend time with him.

Why do we need wonder? Wonder increases our capacity for joy. It connects us more deeply to God. That wonder should come quite naturally during the Mass at the consecration and when we ingest and gnaw (literal translation from Scripture) on Our Lord. The face that Christ left himself as food for us to unite to him body and soul on this side of the veil, should incite deep awe and wonder. It is very easy for these things to become robotic. That is why we have to form a habit of wonder. We will not always have warm fuzzy feelings. Emotions are unreliable and ever shifting. Our faith is rooted in the love and grace of the Blessed Trinity, not our moods. There are days we may “feel” little, but we can still wonder.

How do we cultivate this habit? I will admit that wonder comes pretty naturally to me. As I said in my post on beauty, it only takes a tiny flower or a pretty cloud to stop me most days. I think that the habit begins with gratitude and learning to pay attention. We have to look up from our iPhones and watch the things around us. We need to watch our children play and see how they wonder. My daughter can teach me more about wonder more than anyone else I know. So the first thing is: Look up.

The next step is to figure out what things make us wonder. In the beginning it will be difficult to wonder at things that seem mundane. The brilliant GK Chesterton was so adept at wondering that the tiniest thing brought him into a state of wonder. I want to live like that and while I am well on the way, I have a ways to go. What is it that makes you stop in awe? Is it some aspect of nature? Flowers, trees, grass, mountains, ocean, rivers, desert, snow, sunsets, stars, etc. The possibilities are vast. Figure out the things that incite wonder in you easily.

Once you figure these things out, start to pay attention. Intentionally seek them out while you are out doing your daily tasks. Perhaps take a lunch break, even if only 15 minutes, outside. Go for a quick walk. Stop by your parish and spend 10 minutes with Our Lord who is reposed in the Tabernacle. Even if you are stuck at your computer, try using a search engine to find beautiful pictures to wonder at. Some days I search out pictures related to the season and others I look for the beautiful cathedrals of Europe or the Holy Land.

Another way to instill wonder is to upset the apple cart, so to speak. Change your routine every now and then. Have dinner outside or at a park. My daughter and I have picnics on our living room floor during the winter.

Wonder also comes from gratitude. Foster a deep sense of gratitude. This is something that I am working on too. If we are thankful, then we are more likely to pay attention. When we are upset or ungrateful we tend to put our heads down and fold our arms. Try to think of things you are thankful for each day. It can be the simplest things, like your morning coffee and the steam rising, or eggs sizzling on the stove. It should be the obvious things like family and friends. You will find that when you pay attention to the little things you are thankful for, the more you will begin to wonder at those things that seemed mundane.

Today make an effort to wonder. Step outside, even if it is cold, and look for something to marvel at. I am an avid gardener, so each day I check the progress of my bulbs. The tulips are halfway up, the daffodils are set to bloom, and the crocuses will bloom any day now. I love watching God work.

Yesterday I made a concerted effort to take the day off from studies. I am 2.5 weeks from the end of this semester. I have two more papers due and then final exams. It is crunch time and I will spend long hours studying until Easter. It was 76 degrees here yesterday and glorious. I went with a friend to the park with our kids. My daughter found shells near the river and I discovered a mussel shell in the river. I had never seen one in a river before! I was excited and so was my daughter. When we got home I looked up a video of a live mussel for my daughter so she could see it move. She understood that the shell had been an animal. There aren’t words for her excitement!

After our park adventures we played outside until dark. My husband had to fix his truck, so my daughter and I played in the dirt. Then the most spectacular sunset happened. It started off a pink, blue, and purple and then it exploded into orange. We laid in the grass and watched the most beautiful peach wispy clouds float by. As dusk descended, two bats started flying overhead in search of food while squeaking at one another. My daughter had never seen a bat before, so we watched them for a bit. My husband was happy to see them because we have a vegetable garden and bats keep the bugs down.

I intentionally took much of yesterday off from my routine and studies in order to wonder alongside my daughter. In doing so, I was able to contemplate the deeper mysteries of God and enjoy being a mother. My daughter is not bored of dirt, sticks, and flowers. She sees them as amazing tools and fun. She is the one who stoops down to pick up a tiny purple flower to put in her hair. She is the one who pointed out to me that the tiny purple flowers blooming our grass had “disappeared” at sunset. I was able to explain to her that they close when the sun goes down and will open at sunrise. What an incredible working of nature! If we want to cultivate a deeper understanding and love of God, then we need to pay attention to his beauty and allow ourselves to wonder as children do. There is a reason Christ calls the little children to himself. The children are paying attention. Are we? I hope you are having a very blessed Lent.

**I hope sharing my wonder helps you. I am in a constant state of wonder through my studies and the world around me. God bless.

P.S. Not everything needs to be a picture. Put the phone down and just watch the beautiful sunset. :o)

Let God Woo You

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This morning I looked out the window and was reminded of one of my favorite movies: Shadowlands. It is the story of C.S. Lewis as played by Anthony Hopkins. It focuses on Lewis’ years well into his conversion when he marries his wife, Joy. At one point he is sitting in a library at Oxford talking to one of his Inkling friends about March, that is late winter. He talks about how the snow is gone and the gray rains have come. Not the beautiful rains of April or May, but the dark rains of winter. He calls this time “the waiting room of the world”.  If you have not seen the movie or read any of C.S. Lewis’ work, I highly recommend it all. My favorite of his is the novel Til We Have Faces, which I read every year or two.

Looking out my window, I see his point. The grass is still brown and the sky is that gray that is only seen in winter. If I was in Montana, I would expect snow, but here in Virginia it is rain. The hope of spring is beginning. The world around me is in a yawning phase. The bulbs are beginning to poke out of the ground, except for the daffodils which are standing erect waiting for a sunny day to open up their golden blooms. Many of my daffodils were destroyed by our heavy snowstorms last month. They came up too early and our typical mid-February storms ruined them. There are a few that will bloom, but many I will have to wait to see again until next year.

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Spring is a glorious time of year in these parts. There really is nothing like it. The trees bloom in incredible colors and the tulips dance in the breeze. Perhaps my love of spring is tied to my April birth, but more than anything it is my connection to dirt and flower that solidifies my joy. This time of year means that garden season is near. That time when I can wander local greenhouses and Lowe’s to find new beauty for our yard. All the colors, shapes, and sizes remind me of what a joyful Artist God is in His Creation. Whether it is a delicate little flower or a large tree, God demonstrates Himself to us through His secondary causes (think creation).

The cliche of stopping to smell the roses is a cliche precisely because it is true. In our adult lives we can quickly abandon the beauty around us because we are so busy and focused on ourselves. I am thankful that I have never lost my childhood wonder. It is something that neither of my parents have lost either. My mother taught me the love of earth and flowers, and my dad has taught me the wonder of theology and philosophy. Growing up in Montana, the grandeur of nature becomes imbedded in the soul and experience. Moving to Virginia showed me a different side of God’s beauty, as has every other place that I have lived whether it is the coast of California, the white buildings of Washington, DC, or the farmlands of central England.

Beauty is everywhere and it is universal. It is everywhere because God is beauty and that is reflected in His creation. Since He is beauty, it would be impossible for us to live in an ugly universe. It may be hard at times to see it, but we only have to open our eyes to find it. I see it in my daughter’s smile, the sun streaming through her hair, or in her laugh. I see it in my husband talking to our daughter after temper tantrums or him sketching out plans for our garden. I see it in this “waiting room” through the increase in birds flying about and the green of tulips beginning in my front yard.  I see it in the buds on the skeleton trees that hold the promise of May. I see it in the strength and courage of people who are afflicted.  Beauty is in the quiet places and in the hard places. It is God whispering to us. I see it most clearly in the Blessed Sacrament who is Christ Himself given as our manna from Heaven.

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We have to look, though. We have to look up and out. Instead of internalizing and focusing on the millions of things we have to do, we must take moments to pause and wonder. There is a reason Jesus tells us to be like little children.  Children wonder at everything. The world is new and glorious. Adults are marred by pain and suffering, but that wonder cannot cease. That wonder can be found in a novel, a building, a person, flower, mountains, ocean, blades of grass, the universe is the limit. I frequently go into Google Images and search out beauty that I have never seen before.

When I was a child of 8 or 9, I wanted nothing more than to be an Astronomer. My prized possessions (besides the Pink Panther stuffed toy my mother had given me at birth) were two books about the planets and universe. We couldn’t afford many, so these were truly special to me. I would spend hours pouring over them and looking in amazement at the vastness and indescribable beauty of it all. Venus was my favorite planet. Unfortunately, my love was tempered by my lack of gifts in mathematics and the natural sciences. God had something else in mind for me. I still search out images of far off galaxies, stars, planets, and beauty. Looking at a picture of the Horsehead galaxy still takes my breath away. I can almost hear the angels of Heaven singing to God’s glory when I see it; the beauty is that amazing to me.

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In our fast paced culture we can lose sight of the beauty around us. As a friend of mine frequently says: “God woos us through beauty”. God wants to share His love and beauty with each one of us. God is always giving Himself, which is infinite, but we have to accept. Think of a courtship, in order for a woman to be wooed, she must accept the affections. The same goes for God and each one of us. God gives everything to us, most especially in the Sacraments, but he will not violate our free will. He will not force Himself on us. A lover, in its truest sense, could never force themselves on their beloved. We must accept the love given to us.

God is going to use His beauty on each one of us in the way we were created. I love to dig my hands into the dirt and watch God’s artistry in my gardens. I am drawn into amazing scenes whether mountainous or an ocean. I am also drawn in by the small things. A blooming tulip can stop me in my tracks. I will stand and admire it for quite some time. God knows that I have a deep understanding and love of His creation.

I was watching a movie with my daughter last week. It is the new Disney movie Big Hero 6, which I enjoyed.  There is a scene where the robot, Baymax, has just been fitted with his military grade suit. Hiro, the teenage boy who outfitted him, is showing off his new tech when a butterfly lands on Baymax. Baymax then proceeds to walk off following the butterfly. I saw that and laughed because that is me. I can be ready to go and focused on a task at hand, but then, some beautiful thing will stop me and I will follow it. That is because that beauty is revealing an aspect of God to me and it is more important for me to investigate and hold onto that gift.

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God is using beauty to woo you. Are you paying attention? One of the ways we can evangelize is just by pointing out the the beauty around us. Reason can at least get us that far and God infuses us with supernatural Faith to help us to get to Him. The next time you are overwhelmed, stop and look around. How is God trying to speak to you? Listen and watch your children, spouse, or friends. Whether you live in a city, the country, or in-between, God is using secondary causes to show us His love. Today, take a moment in this “waiting room of the world” to find some beauty and let God woo you.