It was there, while crossing the bridge that connect this part of Oregon with the southern part of Washington, that I glanced over at a boat cutting through the silver waters of the Columbia River. Maybe it was the stillness of the water. Or maybe it was the way the fading light cast out over the river. Just that brief glimpse from the steel archway joining the border of one land to another gave me pause.
So lovely is this world of ours.
I think about its beauty all the time and how one of God’s least talked about characteristics is beauty.
I’m not talking about the beauty Wall Street wants people to consume – the botox, the fillers, the silicone enhancers. There’s nothing of beauty in all of that. Oh, sure, Jane Fonda looks fabulous for her age but Jane Fonda was going to look fabulous at her age no matter what. Find the photo she posted on her blog about a front tooth that fell out. Jane looks like a beautiful woman missing a tooth. When it comes to beauty, with or without the Botox, Jane hit the DNA jackpot. Too many other women her age look more like Jack Nicholson playing The Joker when they settle for Wall Street’s version of beauty.
Last week while driving down a busy street in Portland, I hollered at Tim to slow the car. Look there! I said. See all those cherry trees in bloom! Isn’t that lovely?
Tim slowed the car and took in the moment with me.
A day later, we headed out a path along the Pacific Ocean to a spot where there’s a bench in Mama’s honor. The wind was a blowing. The morning sun slipped out from behind cotton ball clouds and warmed our faces as we walked. Pausing before the concrete bench, we looked out over the golden grasses of the dunes to the white caps pushing and pulling the sands. God’s poetry, that never-ending rhythm of surf, sand, and sun.
Neither one of us remarked about how beautiful the world was in that moment, but we stood there, breathing it all in, that beauty, that grace, that goodness, that peace.
We drove to church today cussing Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump. No exaggeration. We cussed on the way to church. Not angrily, just matter-of-factly, cussed the hypocrisy and dishonesty and exploitation. Then we laughed at ourselves, at our own hypocrisy.
There was beauty in that laughter. Being able to laugh at yourself is a grace.
We sat in the back as we most often do, but the church was fuller today, so we sat even further back. I like sitting where I can see versus being seen. Observing others is one of the activities I love most about this wild life of mine. I’m a student of people. I need to see them, wonder about them, make up stories about them and their lives.
I wish I could be a writer like you to keep myself entertained, a girlfriend once said to me.
Aren’t you a schizophrenic? I retorted. Doesn’t that keep you entertained enough?
The most beautiful thing about our relationship, besides the years invested, is our ability to find laughter in the hardest things in life. We’ve been laughing together since we were 14, she and I.
We sang a hymn in church today. One of those old-fashioned ones that my granny and your granny probably sang. I can’t even remember which one it was now, but I saw a woman rise to her feet as we sang. She wears a crown of white hair, this former military wife does. Glorious thick white hair. She’s not as steady on her feet as she was when she was a young wife and mother. Sometimes now she walks with a cane. Her husband, still bearing the broad chest and shoulders of an enlisted man, sat in the pew beside her. He, too, uses a cane sometimes. Most of the time, though, they just hold on to each other for balance and simply out of habit born out of decades of togetherness. She rose to her feet because the words of that hymn compelled her to rise. Singing about the Jesus she has loved for a lifetime, who has loved her for a lifetime, isn’t something she can do sitting down. She rose up in praise.
It was beautiful to behold.
All my life, since I was old enough to eavesdrop, I’ve heard people in the church talk about how evil this world is. How awful it is. Giving Sodom a run for its money, this world is. Growing darker by the day, all the corruption and sin, what with ISIS or Trump or Mitch McConnell. I heard it during the Obama years. I heard it during the Bush years. I heard it during the Carter years. I heard it during the Nixon years. I most certainly heard about it during years of the Vietnam War and Civil Rights era.
All my life, people, mostly Christians, have been going on about how these are the End Times and surely Jesus is going to come back soon and by golly, such an evil, bad world we live in, how could God be anything but fed up with us?
Most of the time when people make these remarks, I say nothing.
I get quite and y’all know that ain’t normal for me. I get quiet because I don’t know how to tell these folks that I just don’t see the world the way they do. It’s not that I don’t know about the evils – heck I was cussing Mitch McConnell on the way to church after all – and remember, I’ve written a bunch of books on things like child abuse, murder, PTSD, war, sex abuse, mental illness. I’m hardly sticking my head in the sand over the wrongs of this world. Most days, I’m trying to get readers to be aware of them, too.
It’s just that in addition to all that, I see beauty, too. I abide in the juxtaposition that is life.
I see God in the daily graces.
This world and the people in it are beautiful, breathtakingly so.
Shouldn’t that compel us daily to rise to our feet in praise?
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of BURDY and the forthcoming MOTHER OF RAIN (Mercer University Press).