A post from Rev. Tom Snyder, Pastor Emeritus and Visitation Pastor, First and Christ United Methodist Churches, Ashland, Ohio.
For my birthday I received a wonderful array of greetings: cards, calls, Facebook greetings, and a very nice letter from our financial planner (of all people!). It included a quote from the early 20th century Bohemian author, Franz Kafka. While much of Kafka’s writing is dense, and even grotesque – in "Metamorphosis" the main character awakes one morning as a cockroach! – the phrase quoted in Brian’s letter is quite lovely: "Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps his ability to see beauty never grows old."
I like that, especially the part about not growing old (despite all evidence to the contrary!). The ability to see beauty is an ageless gift, and it is not just looking for what seems "pretty". The search for beauty is to develop a way of seeing, a way of looking at the world, of participating in all of what God has set in motion, of encountering and appreciating our relationship with the divine order of things. It is art. nature, music, literature, festivity, music, and laughter. We experience it in broad vistas and intimate moments. We see it in the other person.
Some persons’ hair catch fire when Charles Darwin name is mentioned, but listen to what he said about this: "There is a grandeur in this view of life,…have been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed laws of gravity, from so simple beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved". Anyone who embraces this expansive view might just never grow old.
The Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoeysky, argued that "beauty will save the world". There are as many interpretations of this as there are people who read it. Some might find this a stretch, but I am convinced that there is a social dimension to our perceptions and practice of beauty. Mother (now Saint) Teresa of Calcutta saw beauty in the vermin-infested bodies of those dying in the sewers of Calcutta. Their innate beauty as children of God moved her and her sisters to make space for them to die honored and loved. What if we saw the caged immigrant children in our own Southwest this way, the beauty of children now ripped from their parents – would we continue to tolerate their treatment this way? Beauty is uniqueness, humanity, connectedness, oneness with all the children of God. I want to be able to say with the 19th-century English painter, John Constable: "I have never seen anything ugly!" Or anyone.
Jesus saw beauty in the marginalized, the ill, the outcast and downcast, in the lilies of the field. The canny writer/preacher/teacher of Ecclesiastes, Qoholeth, says it best: "Yet God has made everything beautiful for its time. He has planted eternity in the human heart" Ecclesiastes 3; 11 a.b; (New Living Translation). I guess beauty is a "God-thing", then. And with it is included in the long view of things – beautiful now, even into eternity - from a blade of grass to the galaxies beyond. With this perspective, growing old might not matter at all.
Faithfully, in love, Pastor Tom+