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!

Labyrinthine Renunciation of Frenzied Time

Renunciation of the the desire for compulsive control is going to be a long process of accepting the grace of God. The control monster, deep in my psyche, pulling me into frenzied time zone. Killing the control minotaur is about giving up the compulsive pursuit of immediate happiness in the frenzied time zone to live in the deep time in appreciation of God’s grace, no matter what life throws my way.

In Greek Mythology Theseus slays the Minotaur by braving through to the center of the labyrinth. This monster slaying myth is a timeless because it speaks to fact that everyone had a monster hidden deep in their psyche needing to be destroyed. It is a form of a original sin that needs to be sanctified by the grace of God.  

On the second day of my week long road trip at Alburquerque, NM I got tuned into my own inner monster, anxiety! The prior night I was coming down with cold. I also overslept. I knew I needed to workout in order to get juices flowing in my muscles, some dopamine in my system. That set me later than I had originally planned to leave. I was frustrated with myself because delays prevent me from being able to see all the places I could see on this week long road trip. 

That morning I went to the Franciscan friar Richard Rohr’s Christian meditation center, Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) at Alburquerque, NM. I wanted to visit his center before heading to the Grand Canyon because Rohr’s work aligns with the theme of journeying deep time for this road trip (explained in my first blog post here). The CAC was closed for lunch when I got there. While waiting at the CAC, browsing on my phone, I realize that I had missed a rare opportunity to take a sun rise hot air balloon tour of Alburqueque because I had miss planned the trip. At this point my latent anxiety was turning to self blame.

I decided to to take a walk at the contemplative labyrinth (picture above). As I was walking through the circles, my mind focused on at the little wood chips that carpeted the ground and the smooth stones creating the circular pathway. In the first few seconds of slowly walking, time slowed down. My gloom had lifted like fog clearing out bringing a rays of golden sun shine. I left the old anxiety ridden world entered a new world. The problem with the old world is that when anxiety increases time speeds up, entrapping the psyche in self-absorption. In the old world the frenzied monkey-mind keeps me thinking about the same thing over and over again, self-blame on an infinite loop; no exit. Walking slowly through the labyrinthine pathway, as time slowed down, my psyche transcended my self incriminating self-absorption stepping into the world of God’s grace. The Labyrinth is a place which helped me get out of my self-blame clearing my mind freeing me up to mediate on the free Grace of God. The rest of the way to the center, I was meditating on the gift of my union with Christ. 

When I got to the center of the labyrinth, I saw something strange. There was a large wooden cross on the ground around which other pilgrims had left some souvenirs. Some had left pennies, others quarters, some beautiful stone jewelry. First I thought, “Wow! How superstitious can people be? Is this a way of getting their prayers or petitions answered? Some form of arm twisting God?” Then as I pondered this more, I realized that the action of the pilgrims could be interpreted as a symbolism for self-renunciation.

When one gets to the center of the labyrinth, one gets to the center of the self. It is the place of the symbolic self.It is the place of the killing of the monster within. It is the place of self denial. Self-renunciation is the starting point of sanctification (Matt 16:24). For me my self-renunciation had to take the form of giving up my attempt to control my schedule. My road-trip-goal in attempting to control my schedule is to maximize the possibility of my happiness by consuming the best experiences, visiting places. In renouncing my compulsive control of my harried plans, I embrace the present in all it strange simplicity, living in deep time by the grace of God in union with Christ.

As a ritual of my own renunciation, I left a quarter at the foot of the cross in the center of the Labyrinth. The process of renunciation of the the desire for compulsive control is going to be a long requiring dependence on the grace of God. The control monster, deep in my psyche, pulls me into frenzied time zone of hyper-productivity where the monkey mind attempts to incriminate me for not being able to get the most productive happiness. Killing the control Minotaur is about giving up the pursuit of happiness in frenzied time in to order live in the contentment of deep time appreciating God’s grace, embracing whatever life throws my way. This road trip is an attempt at getting a taste of what it means to renounce the anxious living in frenzied time by apprehending the present moment in union with Christ, living in deep time.