Reflection Beguiled by Beauty: Mystery and Wonder June 28, 2020
Alleluia! Praise the Name of Yahweh,
sing praise, you who serve the Most High,
who stand in the house of Yahweh,
in the courts of God’s house!
Alleluia! God is good!
Sing praises to God’s name because it is beautiful!
Yahweh, Your Name stands forever;
Your fame is told from one generation to the next.
For You do justice for Your people;
and You have compassion for Your faithful.
the work of human hands.
They have mouths but they can’t speak;
they have eyes but they can’t see.
They have ears but can’t hear;
there is never a breath on their lips.
Their makers will come to be like them,
and so will all who trust in them!
House of Israel, bless Yahweh!
Priests of the temple, bless Yahweh!
Attendants of the sanctuary, bless Yahweh!
You who revere Yahweh, bless Yahweh!
Blessings from Zion upon Yahweh,
who dwells in Jerusalem!
Alleluia!Psalm 135: 1-3; 13-21 (Inclusive Bible)
Good morning from beautiful Napa Valley. I’m Pastor Marylee Sheffer, and this seems a natural place to reflect on the beauty of this earth. We start by praying, “Wondrous God, prepare my spirit to see and be beguiled by the beauty of life. Amen.” This sermon series – Beguiled by Beauty – is about the wonder and beauty of God, and all that God has created. To be beguiled is to be charmed, enchanted, and fascinated. I love the idea that God is beguiled by beauty as we are. Cast a look at the creation stories, and God’s care and delight in God’s craftsmanship in each day. Or the stories of God designing the tabernacle with gold, silver, and bronze, with stonework and woodwork. Beauty is a portal to God. A portal is a gate, an entrance, and I’ve always thought of beauty as a doorway where we, humanity, can gaze on the goodness of God. But if God is captured by beauty as we are, beauty can be the place where we encounter God. We gaze at God in wonder and awe and God gazes back at us in wonder and awe. This isn’t to say that we – humanity – don’t regularly break God’s heart, but to have a complete picture (as complete as we can with our limited understanding of the Holy One) we have to see God is in love with us, and beguiled by us. I think it’s harder to imagine that than imagining God’s disappointment, or even God’s absence. But God is love, and God is in love with humanity, and God sees beauty in us.
The pastors in my clergy circuit (United Methodist pastors in this area) met on a ZOOM call last week and as our check-in we shared how we’re staying in love with God. If that’s not familiar language to you, staying in love with God is one of John Wesley’s three simple rules of soul-growth and soul-care. The three simple rules are to stay in love with God, to do no harm, and to do good. One of the pastors shared the joy of celebrating their wedding anniversary, and the decades of love they’ve shared with their spouse… a love that’s grown and deepened… and a love that reminds that pastor that love is generated by and lavishly given by God. All good gifts, including the gifts of love and endurance and beauty, can be traced to God.
Even God’s name is beautiful, the psalmist tells us. “Alleluia! God is good! Sing praises to God’s name because it is beautiful! Yahweh, Your Name stands forever; Your fame is told from one generation to the next. For You do justice for Your people; and You have compassion for Your faithful.” In this psalm we see that beauty isn’t to be loved for itself but as a conduit for encountering the goodness and justice and compassion of God. “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths but they can’t speak; they have eyes but they can’t see. They have ears but can’t hear; there is never a breath on their lips. Their makers will come to be like them, and so will all who trust in them!” The beauty of God – who God is – can’t be separated from God’s compassion, a word that means “to suffer with.” We can’t praise God’s name, or see the real beauty of God, if we don’t enter into God’s compassion for all people, all creation… if we aren’t willing to share the suffering of our fellow humans. Compassion and justice are two words the psalmist uses to describe the beauty of God. Justice – rightness, fairness, integrity, and accountability – are biblical themes that tell both of God’s nature and of God’s expectations of God’s people, of humanity. Beauty isn’t just in what we behold, it’s in how we live in the world, and how we live with others.
Our Greek Orthodox brothers and sisters are especially attuned to praying with the beauty of God through the use of icons – scenes from the life of Jesus, historical events in the life of the church, and portraits of the saints – made of paint, mosaic, embroidery, weaving, carving, and engraving. The little town of Etna, in Siskiyou County, has a Greek Orthodox community, a monastery, and a convent. When I was pastor of Etna United Methodist Church, my husband and I were invited to tour the convent and observe the nuns, called “mothers,” create icons. It was interesting but kind of strange to me as a spiritual practice. Then we were invited to worship in the Orthodox Church… and the iconography (life-size pictures of Christ and the saints and apostles) painted on the walls (some with gold leaf) were breathtaking. The candlelight and pageantry, the vestments and singing, the welcome of us two strangers… I was immersed in beauty and in love with God. That’s not my usual encounter with God which is probably what made it so memorable. I was beguiled by beauty.
This is the weirdest time in my lifetime – this pandemic, this sheltering in place, this physical distancing, this righteous but uncontainable fury over racial injustices, this lack of moral and compassionate leadership from a president, this wondering if there is light at the end of the tunnel – and in this time beauty… can be a portal to God, to peace, to sanity, to compassion, to justice, to hope. Sing or dance or paint or draw or journal or plant tomatoes or handwrite notes or unclutter a closet or pick flowers or deliver a meal or gather eggs or build a barn or make collages or meditate or look at the stars or walk or smell the roses… Experiment with how creating and noticing beauty can help you stay in love with God, in love with life, and centered in wonder and mystery rather than lost in anxiety and impatience.
Author Anne Lamott says the three most important prayers are thanks, help, and wow. This is the “sign” for wow. [make sign with hands and face] Beauty, wonder, and mystery, all aspects of the Holy One, all gifts to us to be experienced and enjoyed, can cause us to say “wow.” In these trying times many of us have used or at least thought of many expletives to describe how we’re feeling, but maybe “wow” hasn’t been one of them. In this week of looking for beauty, with the purpose of staying in love with God, and in love with life, and in gratitude for all we have, let “wow” be the word you use when you encounter and create beauty. Wow God. Amen.