Recently while driving to an appointment I saw a weathered farm house that mesmerized me with its ramshackle glory. I wanted to pull over, admire and photograph it, but I kept driving. And then came the inebriated mailbox, barely able to hold itself upright as its lonely silhouette looked to a grim white wall for support. All around me, the world sang.
Yet I was focused. Meetings. Tasks. Schedules. A world to save (or at least suffering to mitigate).
I noticed how closed my heart had become. Not because I didn’t care, but because my care had become distorted.
Immigrants. Mourners. Climate Justice. Racism. Transphobia. Sick loved ones. Financial fears.
Caring for so many hurting people; addressing so many issues; making myself responsible for so many tasks and outcomes…there was no room in my heart for beauty. No time for unscheduled bliss. No space to just be amazed.
I used to stop more often when beauty surprised me. I used to schedule time just to notice, walking around with my camera or cell phone for “contemplative photography”. I yearned for that again and felt a bleak heaviness overshadowing me. The many responsibilities demanded incessant attention before turning attention to something so non-productive.
Then the realization surfaced. My capacity to care for souls and engage injustice will never exceed my capacity to embrace joy, beauty, and hope. Making space for the mesmerizing glory of an old farm house or a chirping chickadee also makes space in my heart to hold the pain of a world I cannot fix and people whom I cannot save.
Inviting joy and wonder into my life is not a betrayal of the suffering. Rather, it’s the life-giving inhale I need in order to exhale compassion and service. Taking time to be amazed frees my heart from over-responsibility and resentment.
What if I made wonder my first priority each day? What if I not only noticed the blooming orchid in my office, but I took one minute to be embraced by its dancing maroon and buttercream petals and let its seductive scent soothe the anxious mind? What if I made a little more room in my schedule for unexpected encounters with sheer beauty and heart-connection?
As wrote the sainted Mary Oliver, who just left our world:
“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom; taking the world into my arms.”
As we enter this new year, perhaps what is most needed is not more effort, more righteous anger, more frenetic activity to make right a world gone wrong…but more beauty, more joy, more awe. Not as an escape, but as what our soul needs to be balanced, nourished and fully present. The sustainable way forward is not a forced march through never-ending demands, but a rhythm of receiving and giving.
What the world needs now, what we need now, is to allow ourselves to be amazed…again…and again…and again.