Beauty As An Antidote For Worry

Listening to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount is always a challenge for me! His words, while simple, eloquent and revelatory, get right to the heart of things. Often I think to myself, I get what he’s saying but I’m not sure I can do what he’s asking.

That’s what happens to me when I read Matthew 6:25-34. Read it yourself. Jesus says six times not to worry, rather trust God like you see the birds of the air or the flowers of the field do. Our heavenly father takes care of them, are we not of more value? Won’t God care for us as he does the birds and flowers?

I parsed the Greek word “anxiousness” or “worry.” I looked up the English definitions too. The word worry basically says the same thing in both languages. Worry is un-rest in the soul; a disturbance within the soul that aggravates the conscious and the unconscious dynamics of human existence.

I think most of us already know that! In fact, if honest, most of us would even say we are intimately acquainted with worry. I’m tempted to say its epidemic in our culture today. But, considering the word and the condition more thoroughly in light of Jesus’ “don’t worry” imperatives I think it’s safe to say worry is probably more normative in the human experience than epidemic

So instead of defining worry in words, I took a look at how worry is pictured in Google images.

beth-pixFrom these, I think we’d agree it looks like worry makes it residence in the head (mind). Worry can look like mental processing or disguised as creative thinking yet it goes nowhere, just hovers. For me, I somehow think that if I worry enough it will eventually lead to something productive. But in truth, the more I worry, the more confused I get. Worry can even become painful. Ever had a stress headache?

Let me say a few words on worry:

Worry confines us…

  • to defensive strategies in order to survive
  • it trusts the illusion that we can control outcomes

Worry narrows…

  • the imagination to the domain of what we can think of or conceive
  • it looks constantly and only at what is already known in order to make sure nothing has changed or moved

Worry captivates…

  • the mind in the endless rehearsal of all the possible scenarios in order to be prepared to react to whatever life throws at us. A great human fear is to be caught off guard which comes from our desire always and in everything to be in control

IN THESE WAYS WORRY IMPRISIONS THE MIND… leaving us impoverished in ways that are both dehumanizing and destructive, forcing us to live meagerly, in survivor mode.

But…life, as God intended, is more than surviving.

Since Jesus’ six imperatives are situated in the Sermon on the Mount, the context suggests that Jesus presents to his disciples and others listening, a re-configuration of our understanding of life as we’ve always known and experienced it. Jesus births an imagination for life as God intended for us, as we come to live in the richness of the father’s goodness, companionship and blessing. Jesus invites us to exit our old ways of living and enter the kingdom of God. In this way, Jesus becomes our new Exodus!

This is why I would suggest that worry is more a symptom than a problem. It seems that Jesus is pointing to something below worry in the mind. Throughout the discourse, Jesus invites us to check our fundamental trust in God and his benevolent care of creation.

I’m going to borrow a phrase from the English poet, Samuel Coleridge and use it for my definition of trust in God. Trust in the heart of God looks likes the “willing suspension of unbelief.”

Jesus asks really good questions in this passage, questions worth wrestling with. It seems to me that we’re going to have to come to terms with a few things in three primary areas of our life:

  • Regarding food and clothing (or provision) – we’ll have to confront our relationship to work, to our bodies, and how we are defining “the good life” – is life more than the body and work? Or is this all there is?
  • Regarding life span – we’ll have to come to terms with our own morality, the limits of our own strength, and aging or illness.
  • Regarding the future – we’ll have to face our fears about the unknowns and find ways to hold the tensions of having dreams and expectations for future things while at the same time loosening our grip on everything…it’s been said the humble loosen their grip!
  • Regarding our true value – we’ll have to determine our value on earth and learn how to experience that value in relationships, occupations, and within obvious successes and failures.

Candidly, I don’t do well when someone just says to me “don’t worry.” I often feel as if I’m not understood or it sometimes comes off as a dismissive of the things that truly challenge me or that I care about. However, when Jesus says “don’t worry” he gives me a redirect by inviting me to “look at the birds and the flowers” pointing to the teachings of beauty in creation. This helps me. I have found generative help whenever I expose my mind and heart to beauty, in all its various forms.

A visitation of beauty is God’s exquisite provision that moves our lives from mere pragmatic survival or consumer-producer modes to something richer, more sustaining and ultimately more human.

Trash Day – Art Reflection

myholytrinitychurch-Jon_Puls-Trash_DayHoly Trinity welcomes Jonathan Puls Associate Dean and Professor of Fine Art and Art History at Biola University. Jonathan’s art work accompanies us as we learn to follow Jesus in ordinary moments this season. He has gifted Holy Trinity with 4 paintings from his series entitled “Days.”   Says Puls,“I embarked on this group of ‘Day’ paintings in early 2012 and have produced one a year.” 

This first one is called ‘Trash Day.’ We all have trash days, perhaps a day of the week (for me it is Tuesday) or the semiannual large item pickup.  This trash day evokes especially those transitions in life, this major purging, when we clean out closets and garages, perhaps in the midst of a move we make from opportunity or necessity.  In these times or any time we must discard something, we must decide, perhaps unconsciously, what is valuable and what is not.

 

 


by Todd Pickett

Indeed, both the work and its title raise questions of value, of what we consider worthwhile and worthless, perception of usefulness and uselessness.

Our eyes, of course, find their way quickly to these three figures in the painting, two young girls and an elderly woman.  Are they family or neighbors?  Is it significant that, when it comes to usefulness or value, they are those at the end of life or at its beginning, the elderly and very young, no longer or not yet useful or valuable to an economy that produces what we call “goods” (itself a term of value: what is good?).   The elderly woman and two young girls seem to be only passing time, something on the face of it not very useful.

(pause)

And yet we sense something valuable is taking place here.

Let your eyes travel to one or two of these figures and wonder, how might each be experiencing this moment, what value or good might each be finding or seeking in one another?  

(pause)

Could it be the desire to delight another?  To receive or give praise? What new gifts might the older woman, perhaps surrounded by by things from her past, be receiving from these girls?  What might she be giving? Is the young girl in the foreground admiring her sister or friend, or waiting her turn for attention?  And what is each enjoying by just the presence or proximity to another?

(pause)

Someone has said that in every moment of our lives with others we are invited either to give love or receive it.

Much of this happens just this way, in the ordinary attention we give to one another.  Who in your life gives you attention?  From whom might you be called to receive love? Whom do you have a chance daily to attend to? To whom do you have a chance to give love in the normal round of things?  How might such attention color someone’s whole world, making even the daily or discarded stuff of life appear to be full of color and life, as they are in this painting?

(pause)

We are in the season of ordinary time, and we know from the gospels that the daily, ordinary life of Jesus’ ministry was marked by a willingness to attend to others, including those who might be considered of little value or none at all.  Let us observe this in him. Even today, Jesus miraculously through his Spirit is present here, attending to us, to each one of you.

(silence)

Table Blessing

To your table
you bid us come.
You have set the places,
you have poured the wine,
and there is always room,
you say,
for one more.

And so we come.
From the streets
and from the alleys
we come.

From the deserts
and from the hills
we come.

From the ravages of poverty
and from the palaces of privilege
we come.

Running,
limping,
carried,
we come.

We are bloodied with our wars,
we are wearied with our wounds,
we carry our dead within us,
and we reckon with their ghosts.

We hold the seeds of healing,
we dream of a new creation,
we know the things
that make for peace,
and we struggle to give them wings.

And yet, to your table
we come.
Hungering for your bread,
we come;
thirsting for your wine,
we come;
singing your song
in every language,
speaking your name
in every tongue,
in conflict and in communion,
in discord and in desire,
we come,
O God of Wisdom,
we come

© Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com

Quiet, Beauty and Thoughtfulness

Everybody has a face…and faces communicate powerfully: think of a sultry come-on, or the stern look of a parent or the delighted look of teacher who just realized “you got it!” The values that drive the public face of Holy Trinity Church are quiet, beauty and thoughtfulness. These emerge as a Gospel response to the social context of those to whom we minister.

Quiet: Southern California is noisy in the extreme. The noise is jangling our minds and shrinking our souls from their God-intended expansiveness. Despite what we think, we can’t be present to everything—but we try: ear buds in, TV on in the background and searching something on line while texting a friend, we tell our selves that we are connected, that we are multitasking. Actually we are “no tasking”, or at best going very quickly from one task to another—connected to something or someone one split second at a time. And we wonder why we cannot concentrate or focus when we pray, sing or read the Bible…or even try to sustain a conversation…

Beauty: The human environment and human interactions are increasingly, utilitarian, selfish and unattractive—sometimes even plain ugly. This is true of international relations, politics at every level, the workplace, neighborhoods and sadly, even friendships and families. We need beauty for as Elaine Scarry has put it:

The absence of beauty is a profound form of deprivation…but when we see something beautiful we undergo a radical decentering and a transformation takes place.

Beauty as I talk about it here is not an elitist statement about those who can afford to mill about the worlds great art museums. It is a statement about all created beings that were put in a garden of immense and profound beauty—as their natural place of being. In beauty we come alive—we find assistance in becoming human as God intended.

Thoughtfulness: the world has never been more complex. Of course he past dozen generations could have said the same thing. Nevertheless, what we feel and experience viewing our daily news feeds are real: the world is struggling right now; wobbling from ethical, political, economic, racial, tribal, religious and medical challenges—looking in vain for leadership to help us find grounded-ness and hope.

So…we need quiet. We need the arresting intrusions of beauty. We need a thoughtful way to think about our world as Christ-followers. Quiet, beauty and thoughtfulness are great allies in our followership of Jesus—wonderful servants carrying the ministry of the Holy Spirit to us. But in commending these ideas, I often feel like a mother saying to young children, “eat your vegetables!”

I know I am thinking straight and have my desires in order when I crave these things rather than resist them in favor of other “medications”. I have a hunch the same is true for Holy Trinity Church: we at our ideal best when…

We are led beside quiet waters that refresh our souls…when we are still and know that God is God…and that in quietness and trust is our strength… When beauty inspires holiness and creativity…when it becomes a voice calling us think about those things that as St Paul said: are lovely, commendable and worthy of praise.

When quiet and beauty lead to a kind thoughtfulness that enables us to not be conformed to this world, but as ambassadors of God’s kingdom to love and serve our world…