Some years ago, when one of the wildfires raged through our neighborhood, the original split rail fence was burned down. As it was replaced, the fence builder dug up and threw the old cemented and cut-off pieces into the tall grass. The new fence was installed but the old debris was left discarded. I had noticed a few of the stumps from time to time but the weeds and tall grass mostly covered them. However, with the recent hail and wind storm, much of the tall grass was decimated along with many other things. These discarded fence pieces were revealed. The morning sun illuminated this old cedar fence post held in some concrete. I found it oddly beautiful in the light as I walked along in the crisp morning air. Hunny, the wonder dog, was all too happy to stop and sniff while I photographed this oddity.
This moment took me to thinking about connections, neighbors, and unexpected beauty. Can there be beauty and direction even in the rough, hard places of life? Is there a way we can get back to building-up instead of just tearing down? When we disassemble and discard, what values are we using to rebuild or recreate compassionate communities where none are left behind? Do we just chunk things into the weeds or can we clear-out in a way that creates wholeness, heart, and healing for each other and all of creation? I believe there is a way where there seems to be no way.
I have recently committed to a new habit. I do not watch the news when I first get up in the early morning or right before I go to bed. I do stay informed and read a great deal from many sources. I do fact-checking and try my best to be aware of truth and what action I can take to make a difference. However, I have found that when and how I digest information is important to my spiritual and mental health. Connections are important. Connections with each other, the world, and our neighbors is necessary and even biblically based.
Micah 6:8 tells us that God has shown us what is good. That is to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.
Rabbi Joachim Prinz says, "Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept."
Fred Rogers sings "Would You be My Neighbor" every day on his show says, "The connections we make in the course a life--maybe that's what heaven is."
The New Testament story of the Good Samaritan is an all too familiar story even in popular culture. There was a young lawyer who approached Jesus to ask him about fast-tracking his way into eternal life. Jesus asked the guy what the law said to do. He replied that it was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus told him he was correct. But that was not enough for the guy. He needled a little further asking who IS my neighbor? Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan who stopped to help a severely injured man who had been robbed and left for dead. Two "righteous" people passed him by but the Samaritan stopped to help. Jesus turns the question around and ask the young lawyer who was the neighbor? He replied," the one who showed mercy on him." Jesus simply said, "Go and do likewise." Luke 10:25-37
As violence, greed, divisiveness, and lack of truth pervade our culture, I want and need to breathe in mercy, love, and goodness. It is the very oxygen I need to live with meaning and hope. I long for those guiding principles of kindness, love, mercy and connection to shape who I am and who we all are as community and country. How unlikely is it that an old, discarded piece of wood and cement could be beautiful and so instructive? Well, to my mind, God is like that---always finding us, guiding us, inviting us into beauty and mercy, even in unexpected, surprising ways. Let it be so.
Beauty as Oxygen
Patricia Adams Farmer reminds us that there are many kinds of beauty: artistic beauty, moral beauty, soul beauty, natural beauty, tragic beauty. To her list we might add, with Nita Gilger, unexpected beauty.
Nita's beautiful and timely essay shows how moral beauty (kindness) and natural beauty (discarded fence posts) can come together; how unexpected beauty of any kind strengthens the soul. She situates this insight in the context of our need today, in the United States and elsewhere, for the oxygen of beauty. That is her prayer: let there be oxygen.