Ordinary Beauty

The blue sky stands silent behind the wind. Wind breathes life into everything. The trees sway and move, birds dart and fly, even the dead leaves dance. What an image of resurrection and complete dependence. Without the wind, the leaves sit - dead, brown, dull - on a landscape of black asphalt. But with the wind, they float and dance in graceful ways that exult in movement and life. The asphalt becomes a stage for their beauty.


The Impractical Life, Pt. 1

I love watching people's reactions when I tell them I'm an art major. Reactions range from passionate interest to supercilious dismissal. It's always a great conversation starter. One way or another, most people ask about the practicality of it all.

We have this unspoken assumption that education is inherently about practicality. If I said I was a pre-med student, reactions would be entirely different. But how healthy is this idea of education and practicality?

Education has changed so much in past two, maybe even three, hundred years. It used to be about the liberal arts, the education worthy of a free person. The point was to create people with whole souls. Education had one primary goal: to learn how to love and how to love rightly. But now, it is vocation-based not soul-based. We're more concerned about churning out practical, competent humans than humans who have developed souls.

In some sense, isn't practicality just a piece of selfishness? The American Dream has no place for impractical things like love and kindness. It's about beating the odds, building an empire of practical goods, making the cover of Time magazine. There are instances when practicality is not selfishness, but here in our society, I doubt it.

After all, we serve an impractical God. He's self-sufficient, yet He created an entire world for His pleasure. He created practical things like food and animals, but He also created so-called impractical things like dirt, butterflies, rainbows. He sent His son to die for us in the the most unpractical manner. And we are called to go and serve him in a similarly impractical manner.

Maybe we need a strong dose of impractically in our lives. Something like well, the pursuit of truth, beauty, and goodness.

For what good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?


Free Falling Thoughts

This weariness presses onto my soul and my body. I'm learning how to see it - to see beyond the present pain, and somehow, to even see it as it truly is. An ordained grace from God. Learning involves lots of mistakes, dark nights and tears.

The world keeps on spinning. Spiraling by turns, over grief, over joy, over insecurity, over confidence, until a resting point lands with the keen precision of a knife. Rest - calm, sweet, small - in minutes that speak a lifetime and catch eternity. I love these moments.

Grace falls with a piercing beauty: in white petals on the black asphalt, black and white anatomy charts, printed photos on a sheet of blank paper.

These days have a heavy glory in themselves.


Carrying Light

"We can't live in the light all of the time. You have to take whatever light you can hold into the dark with you."

(Libba Bray, A Great and Terrible Beauty)

"People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light shine in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness."

(Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son)

I don't know which quote is more true. Sometimes even though light dispels a lot of darkness, part of the darkness remains, a silent presence that I can't ignore. And yet the light stays as well, tethered by hope. It's that paradox of rejoicing in our sufferings, a simultaneous bit of light and dark.

Maybe both quotes are saying the same thing: the idea is to choose light, to hold onto hope, to carry it and find it whenever dark comes our way, to remember that night never lasts, and the sunrise always comes.

May the blessing of light be on you - light without and light within.

(Irish Blessing)


Finding Words

It's strange that so much life can happen, and yet I cannot find the words to describe it. Or more accurately, I cannot pull the words together into a coherent whole. They are just fragments of thoughts floating around on the pages of my journals and emails. I started taking a picture a day. Sometimes the pictures capture exactly what I want to say, sometimes they don't. Quotes are different, though. In them, I find exactly what I want say in an even more beautiful fashion than I could ever have said it. Soon I'll gather my thoughts and marshal them into a blogpost. Yet for now, here are some quotes that fit my life so, so perfectly.

"The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places. But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater."

(J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring)

"This is the real discipline. It requires choosing for the light even when there is much darkness to frighten me, choosing for life even when the forces of death are so visibile, and choosing for the truth even when I am surrounded with lies. ... Joy never denies the sadness, but transforms it to a fertile soil for more joy."

(Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son)

"And for a moment, I understand that I have friends on this lonely path, that sometimes your place is not something you find, but something you have when you need it."

(Libba Bray, Rebel Angels)

"A sense of place is not sentimental: it is practical and necessary. The mistake is to consider place provincially. While a sense of place is based on local knowledge, it is not limited to local knowledge - it includes a range of places... what is one caught in the forced mobility of our culture to do? The answer lies in story... though I may be out of my place, I am not out of my story."

(Grace is Where I Live, John Leax)


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