Spirituality as Purging Beauty

The question this lays in front of Christians is this – do we wanted to be shaped by a consumerist style of beauty of the world or by God’s Wabi-sabi style of purging beauty? To appreciate this sparse spiritual beauty one has to step away from one’s frenzied narcissistic time into deep time which is the realm that God operates in slowly, patiently, Wabi-sabi style, removing all that is non-essential, charging us with a new Christ-like character, created through purging beauty!

Disclaimer: This is my 3rd and final reflection on my road trip to the Grand Canyon last May. Special thanks my friend, mentor and cheerleader, Doug for lending me one of his cars to take on this trip. The first post was on deep time, the second one was on renouncing frenzied time.

Wabi-sabi, the Japanese art style, is one where art follows the way of the natural world. When a tea cup is made wabi-sabi style, hot water is poured into the cup, over many days in some cases, to have its color change gradually. Then some parts of the cup is chipped off, presumably to give it a unique character! It takes a deeply intuitive eye to be drawn to such beauty. When I was at the Grand Canyon, created over hundred of millions of years, by erosion from the forces of water and wind, I couldn’t help but realize that at the Grand Canyon, God had engineered the forces of nature to play some wabi-sabi.

Opposite of the Wabi-sabi style is the western consumerist style, which is being adopted all over the world today. In the consumerist style of decoration things are beautified often by addition. The consumerist style is a way of seeing beauty in plenty, whether it be adding notes to a chord, color to canvas or cosmetic lather on skin. The wabi-sabi style of beauty is one of seeing beauty in the purging.

When I went to the Grand Canyon this Summer, I wasn’t quite prepared for the stunning beauty of a purged landscape. I couldn’t quite grasp the idea of how something can becomes so beautiful because it had purged off stuff through millions of years of sculpting erosion. The purged beauty of this landscape was such a paradigm shift to my consumerist sensibilities of beauty. My eyes were being re-trained to appreciate a new form of beauty… purged beauty!

I am not alone in appreciating this purged beauty. The Desert Father and Mothers, who are the founders of the monastic movement that kept Christianity alive through the medieval times knew how to appreciate this beauty by removal. Like Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, the desert fathers and mothers spent much of their lives communing with God in the desert, allowing their spirituality to be shaped by the sparse landscape, devoid of the distractions of the world.

These Saints stood for the principle that when the excess trappings of life are removed, this purging makes space for a new kind of deep spiritual beauty that the consumerist world can never grasp. This counter-cultural beauty was their way of witness to their Roman world; it worked! In our world our excessive consumerist sensibilities have caused us to be unable to appreciate the beauty of purged simplicity because to seeing beauty in the very process of loosing things goes against our survival instincts.

The purging process of beautifying the Grand Canyon attests to one key aspect of the way God makes His children beautiful. Grand Canyon became beautiful Wabi-Sabi style – by taking stuff out, not adding stuff to it in the consumerist style. Jesus in the Gospels often talks about self-denial (Matt 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23) which the purging beauty of the Wabi-sabi style aligns with. In fact, the Desert Fathers and Mothers followed Jesus’ way of self-denying desert spirituality – sometimes to a fault! Their counter-cultural work bore great fruit that we still read and talk about them.

Appreciation for a simplistic beauty brings a key question – do we wanted to be shaped by the world’s consumerist style of beauty or by God’s Wabi-sabi style of purging beauty? To appreciate this sparse spiritual beauty one has to step away from one’s frenzied narcissistic time into deep time which is the realm that God operates in slowly, patiently, Wabi-sabi style, removing all that is non-essential, charging us with a new Christ-like character, created through purging beauty!

My First Camping Experience

With the sun on my face and the wind on my chest, as I was cruising down I10 this Friday evening to on my way to Edwards Mar’Q to see the ‘Avengers’, I had a Deja vu. Just about the same time last week I was going down I10 for my first camping trip ever with my dear friends, the Brookesmithers, from Church (Sojourn, Houston). Cruising on I10, I was filled with nostalgia for the prior weekend and ‘Avengers’ didn’t seem that exciting anymore. I wanted to re-live last weekend all over again. Unfortunately, time machines only work in sci-fis. On the other hand, I can blog and re-live the memories through words. So here it goes…

Even though I was excited to be going to camping. At the back of my mind, I was also having a nagging feeling that after having had a 4 to 5 hour sleep week I really needed to rest and read instead of going camping. After being in the horns of dilemma for a few days, my need to experience something new finally got the better of me. And experience something new, I did, in more ways than one!

The 4 hour journey from Houston to camp-site was filled with good conversations about books, movies and musicals. We talked about stuff from Francis Shaffer to Fiddler on the Roof. The best part was that we got talking about the Disney animation movies from ‘Lion King’ to ‘Beauty and the Beast’ to ‘Tangled’. I just couldn’t get Timon’s song ‘in the jungle…’ out of my head. I kept humming it all the way to the camp. My fellow travelers were kind enough to allow my indulgence. We even planned that we’ll watch ‘Lion King’ as a group. Long road trips are real fun. The fun part of such trips is that you get to have good long conversations, undisturbed, with nothing else to distract you except may be, snoring if someone dozes off. 😛 Which by the way did not happen in our car. Our snoozers were all silent and I didn’t snooze, so it was all good. 🙂

By the time we got to the camp, it was pretty dark. I figured that if I missed this chance to sleep outside in the wide open spaces, gazing up at the stars then I wouldn’t get another opportunity to do it. So I decided to sleep on a wooden table. It was the first time I slept without a roof over my head. I tried to look for the milky way it was too cloudy. I read some… then I realized that the night was too beautiful for me to let is slip-by, sleeping. I decided to take a walk at about 1:00 AM. I plugged in my favourite collection of classical music, took two left-over Jack-in-the-box apple pies and walked off into the trails. It was most awesome. It was scary and thrilling at the same time.

Every time I had walked a small distance I would wonder if it would be dangerous to go any further, what if I got lost. What if wolf of bear comes after me. I was just being too paranoid. But then the urge to explore got the better of me and I went on. I had often thought that pioneer explorers are sort of weired people. But it was that night that I understood what made the pioneer explorers tick. An explorer does not go exploring just to have a thrilling experience, rather he is being true to the call that God gave Adam – to exercise dominion over creation. As I was walking through the woods, I knew I was at the mercy of Nature, but I was telling myself that I couldn’t allow it to defeat me. I had to conquer it. I couldn’t allow it to exercise dominion over me. I was the Custodian there. In all my useless late-night exploring, I was feeling deep within me the tug of what makes me truly human – the (fallen) Image of God in me bringing alive within the the Custodian mandate that was given my great Ancestor Adam.

I kept walking… and finally came to a point at which I decided that I had to turn back to get some sleep in. I wanted to take a memorabilia from there… to remind myself of this experience. I looked around and found a small oddly shaped stone which I pocketed.

On my way back, I stopped at a vast clearing in the woods. It was such a beautiful sight. The moon lit the whole area, there was a sort of incandescence all around because of the bright moon light…. the fire flies in the distance, a cool gentle breeze, the rustle of the leaves, the sweet chirping sounds… I stood there for quite a bit just experiencing the timeless beauty of the place… allowing it to GET ME. I looked up at the stars and then ominous trees and then the fire flies. I realized how small I was and how BIG God was.

Paul says that atheists have no excuse, they only have to look up at the sky to know that there had to be a God. I think sometimes, Christians apply this verse only to the atheists, to the exclusion of everyone else. I think this verse applies to Christians too. For, often, Christians, though we know the fact that God is God, we forget that and act like atheists. Often, Christians are philosophical theists but existential atheists. What bridges the gap is reminding ourselves about who God is and who we are. After all, we were rebellious beings before God saved us. The reason why we are forgetful of the BIGness of God and our need to worship and submit to Him is because we are caught-up in our own little selves and petty plans, we do not look up at the sky to see what an awesome creation He has created and continues to sustain it (by holding it together by His Word). When we look up at the sky and beautiful nature, we see how BIG God is. We feel our need to worship Him. That shows us our right place in submission to Him seeking to glorify Him. It sets our hearts and minds in the right place so that we can worship Him and enjoy glorifying Him forever through the whole of our being. I think I was there for about 15 minutes standing and worshiping God for how great He is, and thanking Him for helping me see Him and know Him. That experience was so ingrained in my psyche that it has changed my regular day-to-day worship of Him.

Well, this post is getting too long… we are still in the first night of my camping experience. I suspect I’ll have to do a part II.

Anyways, my experience at camping had a deeply spiritual angle to it which I did not quite expect at all. I saw ‘Avengers’ yesterday and I am sure I’ll forget most of what I saw in a couple of weeks. But what I experienced on my first night of camping, in terms of what it taught me about God will remained ingrained in my memory forever!

Tenderness Trumps Beauty!

The weekend before last, after the Superbowl loss Tom Brady the quarterback of the losing Patriots was disappointed. To be a quarterback and lose a game is like being the surgeon who loses a patient in the operation. Of course there would be the nurses, the anesthetist etc… who are responsible for success, but when it is a failure the responsibility in most cases, falls squarely on the shoulders of the surgeon. Such is the weight the quarterback feels when his team loses. If my analogy doesn’t quite fit football, blame it on my lack of understanding of the game. I don’t follow sports much. The reason I watched the Superbowl was to just experience the community part of watching the Superbowl.

There was something after the game that perked my interest. The camera focused on Tom Brady’s despondent face ans someone said, “Well, he has lost his game, but he is going home to a supermodel wife”. Then I was watching some news and there too the anchor made the same comment.

Honestly, I was a little bit pissed off with the characterization. Is that supposed to mean that guys who do not have supermodels wives can’t help but be sadder? Or does it mean having a supermodel wife is so great that even if you are total wimp, your faltering ego will find its footing on the beauty of the wife you possess?

Just to make clear, I am not belittling what Tom and his beautiful wife share. I belittle how people perceive and present it to others thus reinforcing a wrong value in marital intimacy. The moment of intimacy that Tom and his wife share is precious, and what makes is precious is not Gisele’s beauty but her tenderness and caring nature.

Unfortunately, our culture places a lot of premium on beauty. Both men and women do it, though slightly differently. Men generally want hot wives, that is all they mostly ask for. Women generally just want good husbands who are also, btw, hot and handsome!

The importance of tenderness over beauty is best said in the words of Max De Winter in the movie ‘Rebecca’. Max De Winter says, “I was told that what a man needed in a woman was beauty, brains and breeding. But now I realize that is wrong. What a man needs in a woman is sincerity, modesty and the ability to love”.

Tenderness triumphs beauty anytime… anyday!