And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?-Matthew 6: 27-30
Consider the lilies, with the glory they effortlessly show. This bit of wisdom is a whole lot more than simply stopping to smell the roses (although that’s an excellent thing to do). In the call to consider the lilies, we’re asked to learn from them, to gain wisdom from them, to imitate them. It’s a call to notice beauty and to celebrate it.
First, we notice beauty as gift. As the collect above indicates, God has filled the world with beauty as an act of grace, one that helps us grasp a power greater than ourselves, one that reveals the holy character as loving attention, one that simply brings us joy. Beauty itself, clearly holy intention in creation, is also there to be our teacher. And so we hear the refrain from the psalm that we are to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Recognizing that holy beauty is indeed key to our worship.
Second, we notice beauty as lens. It provides a way to look at the world around us, appreciation of nature for sure. It also includes the ways we look at each other. I recently came across a photographic study which showed how people reacted when someone told them they were beautiful. Pre-comment, sullen. Post-comment, glowing. It struck me because I’m spending time on crowded subways these days. I have felt called to pay attention to other people in the car. I sometimes will get out my small sketch pad and draw them. Slightly risky, but it’s my way of considering the beauty in each person (not unlike the dignity in each person). Not because they are attractive in any movie star way, or because they are dressed particularly well, but simply because they are. They are beautiful.
Third, we notice beauty as offering. Note that the second prayer above talks about the gifts of musicians and artists who help us glimpse beauty. My own faith journey has been deeply shaped by those gifts as well as architectural beauty. I’m grateful for those who made that possible, for their offerings. Offerings of beauty are not only located in liturgy and sacred space. I’m mindful of the ministry of Mother Teresa who said that her life goal was to offer something beautiful for God. (As a work of art, her ministry was the moral equivalent of the Sistine Ceiling.) My offering will never rise to that level, but I appreciate her sense that we each and all can do something beautiful for God. She once described herself as a pencil in God’s hand, revealing her openness to God’s will for her life. Nice image.
Newsflash: There’s a whole lot these days in our world that is not beautiful. There’s a whole lot to make us worry. That’s why the call to consider beauty and upon consideration to extend it is so important. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, it takes faith to see the beautiful in our grace-starved world, a world that seems to grow more mean-spirited by the minute. It’s a world that can easily make us anxious, a world that can make us think we are not beautiful enough, that we need to work harder and longer and better to solve the things that cause us angst. Truth be told, that over-functioning will not ultimately do the trick. But it seems to me that Jesus is telling us that we can navigate the anxiety with an expression of gratitude and hope that beauty will grow.
We worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness in the conviction that God cares and God provides. Be on the lookout today for beauty. Don’t let the ugliness dominate us. Consider the lilies. Consider how your faith is deepened by attentiveness to that which is beautiful.