I am sitting on a grassy lip to the edge of a beach in Honolulu. The sun is sinking over a volcanic mountains as I gaze out at the ocean. The local boats are silhouetted against the hazy hills. Light catches the top of a curling wave, giving it a bead of shimmering pearls.
It’s a locale that is off the dial of gorgeous. God has set his sunset to stunning.
And I sit, trying to soak it all in, finding my capacity to process this loveliness strangely limited. It’s as if, when I attempt to bottle this moment, I find my flask ludicrously tiny for the task.
Have you ever felt like that? Why is it so hard to soak in such a scene?
Perhaps it’s because we are out of practice, surrounding ourselves with the mundane and the necessary. We’re just unprepared.
It could be just the opposite. In this era of the digital posting of augmented photos, we might be overexposed to manufactured beauty, so that when the real thing appears, our vague feeling of déjà vu acts as a filter.
A few days after my sunset evening, I am strolling, camera in hand, through botanical gardens on Oahu. My daughter and I are each finding small delights to photograph, like the tiny pink blossoms above. I worry a bit that I might be falling prey to the modern tendency to exchange wonder in the moment for a digital image to be forgotten later.
But, photography, at least for me, is a way to meditate on beauty. To make that flask a little bigger.
Paul encourages us to meditate on loveliness. The word is in his wonderful “Whatever is” list in Philippians 4:8, where lovely joins a line of other superlatives: true, honorable, just, pure, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy. Think about all these things, he commands.
We need to train ourselves to take in beauty.
It is a rare day to have a bird as exotic as a white-rumped shama pose on a branch long enough to notice. But I have meditated on the loveliness of local birds around my house.
And I have never seen anything quite like this flower, which, for all the world, looks like Animal of the Muppets, but I have meditated on the loveliness of the more run-of-the-mill coifs of flowers in my garden.
In a way, it is the very act of noticing everyday glories that prepares us for those moments of extraordinary beauty. It was the appreciation of sunlight filtering through routine oaks that prepared my astonishment for an entire backlit canopy of this exotic tree.
No matter where we are, we have a responsibility to tune our senses to appreciate the excellence of God’s handiwork.
But it’s going to take some practice.
Father God, open us up – our minds, our hearts, our eyes, our ears – to be able to take in your glory all around us. Not just in the extraordinary places but in our everyday paths. Train us to think about loveliness that we might have constant reminders of you.