Beauty for ashes

Beauty: checker lily (Fritillaria affinis) King Mountain Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey Crawford

I am sent to heal the brokenhearted….To comfort all who mourn….To give them beauty for ashes.
~Isaiah, 61~

I am blessed, in this time of forced absence and fearful presence, to live with beauty. As long as I’m willing to climb some steep hills, I can walk among embracing trees, with unfurling ferns and delicate spring wildflowers at their feet. The consolation is inestimable. It doesn’t erase the images of long refrigerated trailers outside of hospitals, or the vast grief of lost lives, or the fear of what lies ahead. But a deep, green, ancient energy holds my shattered heart for a while. I go home soothed, more alive, better able to abide in a fearful mystery.

The photos accompanying and below this post are from those walks. Elsewhere, in sunlit fields, orange California poppies, bright yellow tidy-tips, and purple lupines are blooming. I may not see them again this spring. So I treasure all the more these quiet spirits in the woods around me, emerging from the earth from which I, too, have sprung, relations and friends. I’ve paired each with a quote celebrating beauty.

Morning glory (Calystegia macrostegia) King Mountain Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey Crawford

Morning glory (Calystegia macrostegia) King Mountain Trail, Larkspur, California

We need beauty because it makes us ache to be worthy of it.
~Mary Oliver~

Last summer’s essay, The Power of Allurement, the Mystery of Beauty, has just been published by Kosmos Journal in an issue entitled True Wealth. When the invitation for submissions came in January, I took the theme in a practical spirit and submitted The Universe and the Doughnut, a vision of a new economic order through the lens of Brian Swimme’s universal power of centration. Then, knowing that the editor, Rhonda Fabian, is also a fan of Brian’s, I sent her the list of my essays on his powers of the universe. She chose the one on allurement, saying in her reply, “Beauty really fills a need in this edition. Beauty is true wealth, and when we rediscover this simple truth, our relation to the Earth will be transformed.”

At a time when the current definition of wealth has crashed at our feet, finding the meaning of true wealth has never been more urgent. Peace, health, community, nature, beauty, shared abundance, meaning. Beauty not about the surface of things but instead the deep pull from aliveness to aliveness. Not every wildflower is superficially beautiful. But they are all blooming — vibrant, filled with life, interesting, intricate, mysterious, the soul of the earth. They pass quickly on to the profound work of creating their brilliant seeds, forming life and the endless potential for life in those tiny containers. Then they sleep, confident in their ever-renewing role in nature’s long life.

Blue beauty: a blue dick (Dichelostemma capitatum) King Mountain Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey Crawford

Blue dick (Dichelostemma capitatum) King Mountain Trail, Larkspur, California

Finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in the world we love.
~Terry Tempest Williams~

They are part of the deep, intimate, enduring paths of our planet. It’s so easy to see, in the midst of this pandemic, how fragile a structure we have created. How many people are left out. How limited and lethal our definitions of prosperity and security. We did not know, when ashes were crossed on foreheads on February 26, that the edifice we have built would lie in ashes by Easter. But none of this is news except how suddenly it could all collapse. How hollow it really was. 

There will be many, many plans, suggestions, dreams put forward in the next months and years. They have already started. Some dreams come with a long history.  Some will pull us backward. The pandemic is already an excuse for erasing pollution standards and “rescuing” oil companies. Tyrants will seize more power in the name of fear and chaos. But many of the plans will hold promise, recovery, redefinition.

What if, in the work ahead, we include beauty in true wealth? We look to what makes us come alive, to aliveness calling to aliveness? What if we took the definition of scientists, and saw beauty as the harmonious ordering of all parts of the universe, down to our daily choices of work, home, pleasure? What if we insisted on the beauty of clear skies and clean water? What if the heart-expanding music of children laughing became our priority? What if we honored visual beauty, and created a built world that was wonderful to look at and live in? This is how beauty transforms the earth. 

Drops of gold (Prosartes hookeri) King Mountain Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey Crawford

Drops of gold (Prosartes hookeri) King Mountain Trail, Larkspur, California

We are made immortal by the contemplation of beauty.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson~

Easter and Passover are ancient celebrations of the promise of renewal and the solace of hope, both much older than their current stories. Has there ever been a time when we didn’t welcome the light, the springing green shoots, the radiant, multi-hued glory of flowers? Yet these enduring traditions arose out of the immediate anguish of their time: slavery, persecution, suffering. They have endured through millennia by reminding us over and over, in the face of fear and destruction, that hope is a choice. That right action is beneficence. That community upholds us.

This is my 70th Easter, and the first one I will spend without family and friends around me. We’ll talk and text and make sure to say we love each other. Then I will go out among the trees, watching for shy spring flowers. Some are tucked under leaves. Others, speckled, are nearly invisible in the dappled forest. A few, especially on the sunnier side of the mountain, make a bit of a show. On this quiet, meditative search for beauty, I join with all of you in this holy season of hope, longing, and love.

Delicate beauty: milk maids (Cardamine California) Hoo-koo-e-koo Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey Crawford

Milk maids (Cardamine California) Hoo-koo-e-koo Trail, Larkspur, California

We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.
~C.S. Lewis~

Checker lily (Fritillaria affinis) Hoo-koo-e-koo Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey Crawford

Checker lily (Fritillaria affinis) Hoo-koo-e-koo Trail, Larkspur, California

The perfection of beauty in these lilies of the wilderness is a never-ending source of admiration and wonder.
~John Muir~

Death camas (Toxicoscordium fremontii) Hoo-koo-e-koo Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey Crawford

Death camas (Toxicoscordium fremontii) Hoo-koo-e-koo Trail, Larkspur, California

Unlike beauty, often fragile and impermanent, the capacity to be overwhelmed by the beautiful is astonishingly sturdy and survives amidst the harshest distractions. Even war, even the prospect of certain death, cannot expunge it.
~Susan Sontag~

Pink beauty: wood rose (Rosa gymnocarpa) King Mountain Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey Crawford

Wood rose (Rosa gymnocarpa) King Mountain Trail, Larkspur, California

People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child, our own two eyes. All is a miracle.
~Thich Nhat Hanh~

Common Pacific pea (Lathyrus vestitus) Hoo-koo-e-koo Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey Crawford

Common Pacific pea (Lathyrus vestitus) Hoo-koo-e-koo Trail, Larkspur, California

In the experience of beauty we awaken and surrender in the same act. Beauty brings a sense of completion and sureness. Without any of the usual calculation, we can slip into the Beautiful with the same ease as we slip into the seamless embrace of water; something ancient within us already trusts that this embrace will hold us.
~John O’Donohue~

Indian warrior (Pedicularis densiflora) Hoo-koo-e-koo Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey Crawford

Indian warrior (Pedicularis densiflora) Hoo-koo-e-koo Trail, Larkspur, California

That which is not slightly distorted lacks sensible appeal; from which it follows that irregularity—that is to say, the unexpected, surprise and astonishment, are an essential part and characteristic of beauty.
~Charles Baudelaire~

Checker lily (Fritillaria affinis) King Mountain Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey Crawford

Checker lily (Fritillaria affinis) King Mountain Trail, Larkspur, California

When our universe is in harmony with Man, the eternal, we know it as Truth, we feel it as beauty.
~Rabindranath Tagore~

Morning glory (Calystegia macrostegia) King Mountain Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey Crawford

Morning glory (Calystegia macrostegia) Hoo-koo-e-koo Trail, Larkspur, California

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
~Rachel Carson~ 

I’d love to have you join me! If you add your email address, I’ll send you notices of new monthly posts.

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3 Comments

  1. Ann Crawford April 13, 2020 at 12:05 pm #

    Soooooooo beautiful and uplifting! 🌟🌸🌟 Tweeting.

  2. Mark April 12, 2020 at 11:19 am #

    Wonder photos and insights. Happy Easter!

  3. Carol April 12, 2020 at 5:23 am #

    …from the pulpit of the Divine…

    Just lovely, my wise and dear friend. Glorious Easter to you!

    MLAA

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