So there’s this awesome project that is going on this year, called The Common Year; search that or “Beauty in the Common” and you’ll find it. It’s basically a year-long invitation to find beauty in the everyday, to slow down and rediscover a sense of wonder for not only the magnificent but the common. Follow them on Facebook, Instagram, sign up for e-mail notifications–all of it. OK, plug is over.
Why is this so important? Because there’s a huge need in this world, and in a particular way in this country, to reawaken a sense of wonder.
Here’s the thing: it’s pretty clear our world is a mess. It’s just straight-up broken, with a lot of broken people (myself included) walking around half-asleep, hiding everything that’s real behind a screen, whether real or mental. Either we’re watching a YouTube video on our phones or acting our way through life like there’s a camera on us that just adores us. Life starts to feel bland after awhile of that; we get so used to the over-stimulation that real life seems to be dragging along. It’s difficult to face a world that feels like all its energy has been drained out of it. So we don’t. We cover it up with more and more distractions.
Why? There are a million reasons why a person starts to fall asleep to the beauty of reality–there’s something in it that is painful, the virtual world seems way cooler, cultural pressure–but it all leads to the same restlessness. But it’s always a half-waking sort of restlessness. We find ourselves either dragging through the mundane as it demands our attention or speeding through it just to get past it. Or worse, just ignoring it.
Chesterton recognized it in the 20th century man, and said the average man or woman of his age was just the same, trying any number of distractions and stimuli, no matter how abominable, to try and wake themselves up. “They are walking in their sleep and try to wake themselves up with nightmares.” And I ask you, is there anything so nightmarish as a man who does not see a homeless child because he is busy watching a video about homeless children, or a woman who has forgotten how to have a normal conversation because she is too busy taking pictures of herself to talk? Is there anything quite so horrifying as the thought that, after all, a world man makes on a screen might be more exciting or real than a world God makes of matter?
I invite you, brothers and sisters, be open to the beauty in the mundane. The easiest way to do that is to put away distractions and find some source of magnificent beauty, or beauty that is hard to miss, like a breathtaking scene in nature, or a masterful work of music that lifts your eyes to heaven.
It takes time to see beauty, and I promise you, if you do it right, it will hurt. Beauty pierces the heart with the two-edged sword of truth about our littleness, the grandeur of things not of this world, and the ways in which we have both beautified and wrecked ourselves and the world around us. Don’t be afraid of that; let it cut away the shell you’ve built up against reality, the shell that hides the real you. Stand exposed before the storms of life, and you’ll find anchors against the winds and rain all around you. Beauty has a way of showing up all around you if you have eyes to see it.
Then, once you’ve seen beauty, treasure that encounter with it, and reflect on it. Let it soak you with its truth. Write a story about it, keep a journal, or write a poem, like this one I wrote about this very topic. Tell a friend about it so you can ponder it together and enjoy a moment of closeness together. Find a tune that you think expresses the moment. Beauty ought to beget beauty, even if that beauty is simply the beauty of two souls uniting in wonder and awe, or a single soul moving a little closer to God’s heart through Mary, who pondered the mysteries of Christ’s life so perfectly.
Finally, give thanks. True wonder only comes when we are grateful for having encountered beauty. Rejoice before the Lord for this moment, and every moment like it. Let every moment of beauty come flying up to carry you into contemplation of its source in the very heart of Christ.
The best part is? This is exactly the same for beauty in the mundane. Beauty is beauty, wherever it graciously arises. You’ll know it once it’s touched you. Just keep your eyes peeled and your heart and mind open.
What was that, like, four or five steps? OK, recap: 1. Look for beauty in the magnificent, and don’t quit even if it hurts. 2. Reflect on that beauty and share it, even if it’s just with God. 3. Give thanks for the beautiful moment(s) and their source. 4. Repeat with all encounters with beauty, magnificent or mundane. See, just four! Easy, right? OK, easier said than done sometimes, but make a habit of it. It’s an awesome way to enrich your life, both in general and especially spiritually, and it keeps you connected with things as they are and away from the abyss of distractions that threatens to swallow us.
Keep walking, fellow pilgrims; don’t afraid to drown in the sapphire ocean of His beautiful love. You’ll wake up a better person for it.
P.S. Here’s one of my favorite choral pieces to get you started. Enjoy!