Spirituality for Today – October 2011 – Volume 16, Issue 3

Beauty Is In The Heart Of The Beholder

By Janice Alonso

Recently I've found myself watching less and less television: everything is just too depressing. Endless loops of stories about hate, destruction, and for lack of a better category, pure evil dominate the headlines on the news stations. I understand the importance of being aware of my world and what is happening around me, but the problem is there is too much information. Often what is reported on one station conflicts with information I've read or heard elsewhere. Sometimes, the story itself morphs into a completely different tale by the end of the day, making the original piece just simply incorrect. While I come away feeling informed, I also come away confused, depressed, and angry. The impact of these feelings is that I am becoming desensitized to whatever the new-horror-of-the-hour may be.

An illustration of a heart

The selection of quality non-news shows is also slim. The broadcasters offer a variety from which to pick – from the silliest to the extremely sobering. Like most people, I have my favorites, but considering the number of shows listed it is a paltry return on the amount I pay to my cable provider. Never in my life have I had so much to choose from and so little to see.

Many of the commercials are not much better. Advertisements bombard the airwaves with products promising to make me feel more confident, more successful, and more beautiful. To these companies I'm not good enough as I am, and of course, I can be "repaired" with a one-click visit to their Internet site or a "1-800" call. But each comes at a cost, usually with a rather hefty price tag attached.

About a month ago I consciously replaced some of my television hours with additional reading time. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale is one of my favorite inspirational writers. One evening I was reading a piece by him, "Make Every Day a Good Day," when my mind focused on the following sentence:

"Sensitivity to the beauty and the wonder of the world is a romance that anyone can cultivate."

I lowered the book to my lap: What a beautiful thought. I decided that in addition to reading, I would spend more time relaxing, enjoying, and focusing specifically on what God has placed before me. Perhaps I could recapture that sensitivity I'd lost by rekindling a romance with the "reality shows" taking place in my own backyard.

The next morning I moved my devotion spot from the sofa corner by the reading lamp in the den to the rocking chair sitting less than fifteen feet away on my back porch. There I enjoyed my coffee in reverence to the early June day God was unveiling before me.

I did something I don't do nearly as often as I should: I listened, watched, and received God's bounty. Birds serenaded me in the early morning sun. Crows cawed in tree branches overhead. Bees buzzed amid honeysuckle. Then I listened for sounds I don't expect to hear when I'm sitting outside on a warm summer morning, sounds that are drowned out because they are softer, have a more elusive presence in the landscape, or are not as easily absorbed. It takes effort to sort out these sounds. I closed my eyes and tuned my ears to faraway sounds, purposefully blocking out all those immediately surrounding me.

In the far distance came the sound of a train, the rumbling engine of the locomotive interrupted by short bursts from its whistle. I smiled as a comfort sparked inside and grew ablaze in my heart. The fire caught hold and transported my mind from a seat on my back porch in the here and now to a suspended swing on a front porch from long ago on my great-grandmother's tiny house in the country. As a child on that porch, train sounds were much more common because trains were everywhere. As a matter of a fact, they were so loud back then their sounds overpowered the birds and the bees. My train of thought continued on its journey...

On that porch I spent evenings after supper listening to conversations between my grandmother and her mother as they laughed aloud and paid quiet reverence to people who'd died before I was born. My child's mind had conjured up images of people and places gone by, creating a fantasy world of how life must have been for them.

On that porch I studied the lightning bugs I'd collected in a fruit jar, wondering how God made their backsides shine so brightly. Later I'd release my prisoners and watch as they flitted away, soon darting out of sight.

On that porch I ate ice-cold watermelon on humid summer afternoons. I'd felt the juices run down my chin as I spit seeds into a nearby clover patch.

On that porch I built a foundation of pleasant memories, but I vividly recall the day when I sat alone on those steps as my grandmother and her sisters talked in hushed tones inside the house about the passing of their mama. I remember their sadness, but I remember more their comfort that she had been lifted to a better place that the Lord had prepared especially for her.

On the here and now porch, I let my thoughts roam unleashed, bouncing along a path with no beginning, no end, and leading to nowhere in particular...

The smell of rosemary from my herb garden tickled my nose.

Two squirrels quarreled noisily over seed spilled from my feeder.

The sun rose higher and hotter, making my forehead bead with perspiration.

A blue jay puffed out its feathers and enjoyed a refreshing dip from my birdbath.

After a while, my mind returned home, to the place where responsibility beckoned.

I reread Dr. Peale's statement. God has provided so much in my immediate world. Whether I find myself on my own back porch or sitting on a bench in the middle of a mall, I can find beauty. That beauty can be in the form of the actual things around me or it may be experienced from a leap of mind into a faraway place in the past, or perhaps the future. Either way, I often have to search for that offering, carving out a time and expending the energy to travel down that road.

Even with much less television time, I still learn in graphic detail the most recent, up-to-the-minute political scandal, where the newest unrest has broken loose, how much property and how many lives have been destroyed by the latest disaster, and yes, even who was eliminated from the past week's talent competitions. That kind of news always finds me because that's the world in which I live.

By taking the time to not only read and study God's word but to exist in the world He created, I have rediscovered that clear-minded, upbeat, and serene soul who somehow got suffocated in the here and now.

"God saw all that He had made, and it was very good."
– Genesis 1:31 (NIV)