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Quotations I love: Make it beautiful

Lynne Baab • Wednesday April 28 2021

Quotations I love: Make it beautiful

“If it can’t be happy, make it beautiful. . . . I hope that, in the midst of your sorrow and the bleakness of what you’re facing, you can yet find a way to make it beautiful. . . . The pandemic has been an experience of powerlessness and sadness for most of us. It hasn’t been happy. But we can still make it beautiful.”
—Samuel Wells, vicar of St. Martin-in-the Fields, next to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery in London

I love Samuel Wells’s distinction between happiness and beauty. I find it easy to conflate the two. I have seen so much beauty in the midst of the pandemic, while happiness has been at a low ebb. Here are some examples of the ways I’ve seen people create beauty in the past year:

Increasing joy in nature. The beauty of nature has been a solace, a touch stone, a lifeline for so many during the pandemic. Hiking trails have been mobbed. A rare snowy owl in an urban Seattle neighborhood became a destination for many of my friends. Facebook is full of photos of trees and flowers and water views, and many of my Facebook friends document their walks and hikes. Gardens and houseplants have also become treasured sources of beauty. So many people, including me, have found joy in embracing the beauty of nature that reflects God’s beauty.

Rediscovering or discovering art and crafts. The slower pace of the pandemic, and the drive for something to do besides binge watch TV series, has resulted in a renaissance of knitting, crocheting, collaging, painting, sculpting, writing poetry, and many other creative forms. I just read an article about a group of Christians, the Chicago Illuminated Scripture Project, that assigned chapters of the Bible to volunteers, and each participant hand wrote the chapter with the addition of any illustrations they cared to add.

In the first six months of the pandemic, while my husband Dave and I were in Seattle, Dave drove all over town to find out-of-the-way places to paint, where he could be outdoors but not close to other people. He never would have painted those scenes without the frustration of the pandemic, and his urban sketching kept him centered. He made beauty.

Fascinating and unexpected new family patterns and connections with friends. Many parents are struggling mightily to juggle work while overseeing zoom school, so I don’t want to make it sound like every family has bonded in new and wonderful ways. My kids’ former babysitter, Amy Camber, creates amazing comics that capture some of her frustration as a working mom with kids trying to do zoom school at home. I suspect that for Amy, the challenge of creating comics helps her create beauty in the midst of her challenges.

In many families and friendship circles, the pandemic has brought the beauty of new patterns of relationships. More consistent and longer phone calls with relatives. Deeper connection between siblings who live far away. Skype calls with friends from high school and university days. Home groups and support groups meeting more frequently on zoom than they did in person and finding new ways to support each other. The joys of board games and crafting for parents and children.

For my seven-year-old granddaughter, the pandemic has brought new and wonderful gifts through home schooling for first grade, something she and her mother would never have tried without the frustration of several months of zoom school at the end of her kindergarten year. I watch her thrive doing homeschooling, something that never would have happened without the pandemic, and I see something beautiful.

Wells goes on to note the power of creating beauty:

“In the face of dismay, the best approach is to go up a level, to a realm of fittingness, recalibrated priorities, and God’s kingdom. But making it beautiful also addresses the powerlessness at the heart of grief. There is, it turns out, something you can do, and that is to take the wisdom, grace, or soul of what’s been lost and portray its transcendent quality in word, deed, or collective gesture.”

Maybe that’s why these expressions of beauty thrill me so much. I see people taking the powerlessness of the pandemic and doing so many things to go up a level to make meaning and find solace in a hard time. I see people accepting what is lost and making beauty in the midst of it. I agree with Wells that every one of those actions affirms that we are not powerless. We have agency. God has planted creativity inside us, and when we create beauty we connect with a primordial part of our inner beings created by a beautiful God.

(Next week: John Stott on pruning. Illustration: Kubota Garden bridge by Dave Baab, one of his pandemic sketches of Seattle. I love getting new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.)

Some previous posts you may enjoy:

[1] Samuel Wells, “Make it Beautiful,” The Christian Century, December 16, 2020, 37.

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