Kicking off the new year is our Artist of the Month for January, my dear friend, Brooke!!! Some of you may remember a certain post describing our kindred-spiritedness and mutual love of fancy-letter-writing and other things last summer. (It was possibly my favorite post. Ever.)
Brooke is a 6th grade language arts teacher, as well as being in charge of theatre productions where she works. (Basically, she’s the coolest ever.) If it weren’t for the fact that being best friends with her is LITERALLY THE BEST then I would want to be able to somehow go back to junior high and have her for a teacher. (And that’s saying something.) She epitomizes a crucial aspect of what I look for in an artist to feature: she is doing noble, creative work- a daily chiseling away at a mountain to find the masterpiece. She boldly creates beauty out of her life, and comes alongside little not-quite-people in their stories, and pours into them inspiration and exhortation to the same excellence she achieves and pursues.
Her creativity, brilliance, humility, and passion for Christ set her apart. When she speaks, people listen. And you should too. Today, she puts into words what I keep trying to over and over. This is why we need each other as creatives/people/children of God. Enjoy.
Standing in the park, I looked at the tulip trees towering above me, golden and beaming, clapping their branches, and I imagined the gates of heaven are tulip trees. My inmost being cried out, “I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart! I will enter His courts with praise!” I prayed to see the courts of the Lord, and I gave thanks. I remembered that Christ has overcome the world and that he has loved me with an everlasting love, and I felt exuberant.
Beauty does it to me. It bends my soul to the light of exuberance. The beauty of a cello solo moves my heart fibers like plucked strings. The beauty of the bend in a creek turns me to water and makes me long to transform into my namesake (Oh, that I could become a babbling brook for a day!).
The terrible paradox about me and beauty is that I crave it so badly I cannot savor it when it finds me. I want to capture it, bottle it, and keep it to myself that I might have it all the time, safe and secure whenever I need it. I want to steal that beauty; I want to ensure a way to hold it and use it to banish all the ugly, impure, and horrid in this life. Tragedy upon tragedy, in my thievery of beauty, I lose what was already mine. Beauty showed itself to me as a gift, but I was so busy trying to put a cork on it that I missed it: the music ended or the sun went down and I didn’t soak it in.
Beauty begs enjoyment, not ownership.
I am ashamed of my selfishness for beauty. When I can’t enjoy a sunny Saturday because I’m wishing my whole life could be sunny Saturdays and never cloudy Mondays, I know I’ve missed the mark and lost out on a beautiful day. Why can’t I soak the day in and be content?
But how can we be content in this life and yet yearn for something much more beautiful than this life? Why must I crave MORE?
Stories of Beauty
Stories might be my favorite beautiful thing. Stories get right at the core of something sacred. They shake a person from within.
In third grade, my teacher read portions of Treasure in an Oatmeal Box to the class for fifteen minutes everyday before school let out. By the time we got to the end of the book, she cried so much she could barely read the words. We passed the tissue box to her, the air hanging heavy with depth, and everyone felt changed–even the boys who liked to staple their own thumbs were moved. I thought: stories can DO that. I remember the day in fourth grade I spent devouring A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I had to stop every few pages to stare at the wall in awe. I could feel the words sink straight into the slivers of my soul and change me. I knew that stories like this were more: they cracked open the universe. They ripped open the ceiling of your bedroom and poured down the depth of a thousand histories and opened portals to a thousand futures and made you forget your singular self to become part of something bigger. It was a MORE that brought unspeakable joy.
There’s a beauty in story that invites me to enjoy it rather than try to capture it. Maybe that’s because the Great Stories reflect the light of something I cannot keep all to myself. Maybe that beauty needs to be shared instead of bottled.
I’m sharing C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair from The Chronicles of Narnia series to my sixth grade classes. We turn on all the cozy lamps and switch off the fluorescent lights. I sit in my reading chair. They sit on the floor. Together, we leave the world for a while and traverse through strange lands with Jill, Eustace, and Puddleglum.
I’m tempted to read a bit slower these next few days so our time in that story can last a little longer. It’s just so good. Sharing this story with a group of eleven-year-olds who get it–who understand what Aslan’s about and who see their own stories through Jill’s–is an incredible privilege I will never forget. And here’s what those kids understand: at the beginning, Aslan sits with Jill on a mountain top far above the world. He gives her a quest to carry out far below the mountain in the land of Narnia and beyond. He tells her to remember four Signs that will guide her on her journey. “Don’t forget the Signs,” Aslan cautions. The Signs are meant to make her journey better.
The Signs will guide her. Aslan tells her to repeat the Signs to herself when she wakes up in the morning and lies down at night, and if she wakes in the middle of the night she should repeat them again and again lest she forget them and lose herself along the way. Aslan reminds Jill that up on the mountain the air is clear and it is easy to remember the Signs, but down in Narnia and beyond the air is not so clear, and her mind will not be so clear.
If Jill does not take care to repeat the Signs, she will soon forget them and lose sight of the quest. Jill, as one might guess, soon gets selfish and greedy. She starts thinking about what she wants and forgets the quest. She muddles the Signs. The sixth graders understand that we are all a bunch of Jills.
And all of us Jills are really just a bunch of Israelites. Deuteronomy 11 opens on a group of Israelites who had forgotten God’s promises. They forget what he had done for them–how he scooped them out of Egyptian slavery and brought them into a covenant with him. They forgot that in the desert wasteland, God gave them manna from heaven so they would not starve. The Israelites forgot the commands. They forgot the promises. They forgot whom they served.
They forgot the story.
“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth” (Deut. 11:16-21).
Don’t forget the Signs.
I have forgotten the Signs too often to admit, and it shames me. I have forgotten God’s promises. When God says, “I have kept my covenant to you” and “in this world you will have troubles, but take heart, for I have overcome the world,” I blunder about and wonder why my life cannot always be beautiful and why must I tarry in this ugly world AND I MISS IT. I miss the beauty in God’s kept promises that he has plastered all over this place. Infinite beauty lies in the written Word and yet many days I neglect to read it and wonder why I’m yearning for something MORE. I miss the beauty of a life well lived that sees God’s faithfulness in all things and accepts him like a gift, palms open wide.
In the park, under the tulip trees, God reminded me of his faithfulness, and it was beautiful. I read a story in those trees and the words said, “Remember the Signs!” I remember that the Lion is good. I remember that he is beautiful.
There is boldness and might in the beauty of his love. He draws our eyes up to the treetops and down to the pages of a story and asks us to drink in it. Soak it up. Savor all this beauty. Share it with another because there’s so much of it to go around. Know that the Lord is beautiful. And if he is true Beauty, I cannot possibly hope to bottle him up and keep him for myself. Rather, his beauty is so vast the whole earth cannot contain it, not even in the pages of a book.