How many clouds, I wonder, form, float, and disappear on a summer morning, without my ever noticing? I owe them better than my inattention.
So I sit now, on the bench in the shade outside my church, on this summer Sunday morning, as people arrive for the late morning Mass.
“Writing poetry?” one asks—a retired English professor.
“Not poetry,” I say, and I share with him these words.
As I watch mere wisps of cloud appear out of the blue, and magnify and shift in shape and scuttle south and now wisp away and vanish into the blue, I begin to understand: Savoring beauty, even fleeting beauty, is a moral imperative.
Plus, savoring beauty is free more often than not. The act of savoring, and the beauty itself, all of it, free.
And if savoring beauty, then protecting beauty now also becomes something of a moral imperative. I feel this “something of a moral imperative” grow as I commit myself to a new habit—picking up trash on my mile-long walk to church.
“How can you love what you are not willing to defend?” a voice inside me asks. If I want to love something—and I do, then I must be willing to defend it. Ready to defend. Equipped to defend.
I must be equipped to defend what I love. And what equipment might I need?
On my mile-long walk to church on Sundays my “equipment” consists of cleaned plastic produce bags which I flatten and stuff into my backpack pouch, ready at all times for trash pick-up.
Other equipment, more personal, that helps me to defend beauty? A smile, a ready “Hello,” a readiness to sit on a bench at the transit mall so that Cassie can tell me about her coming beautiful twins as she smiles dreamily and rubs her belly.
The Apostle Paul writes, “Your attitude must be Christ’s.” So I practice this Christ-attitude with the simple things—a smile, a ready “Hello,” a readiness to share a bench at the transit mall with someone who is not me. These things cost me nothing.
I carry one more piece of equipment in my defense-of-beauty bag: poetry. Always a book of poetry. The slim volume that slips neatly into the bag to finish off an outdoor summer lunch, with friends or alone. Inspired lines to savor, too, in the in-between moments.
Now downtown at the transit mall in the early afternoon, I take my seat, as is my custom, on the bronze bus bench beside the small and serene statue of Rosa Parks. She lived, took a stand, a costly stand, in defense of humanity’s particular beauty. Her statue defends the eternal gaze of peace which emanated from this quiet yet powerful woman.
As I gaze upon her statue I notice that someone before me has defended a yet greater beauty. Tucked into the little open space formed by Rosa’s folded hands I find a small wooden cross, maybe four inches high, with a hole in the top where a black nylon rope has been twined through, attached to a carabiner. Someone’s backpack treasure, no doubt. A gift. A symbol of the enduring beauty of God’s costly love.
Why does defending beauty matter to me? I think of the relentless daily news feeds, which recount in ever new and unimaginable ways the great undoing of beauty. Rampant evil exhausts the human spirit, crushing and completely devastating what is lovely and good and imbued with God’s favor and purpose and delight. I desperately need to touch, to cherish, and defend what gives this world meaning, spirit, and life.
Defending beauty—the beauty of justice and nobility of human spirit, beauty of creation, the beauty of noticing things as simple as clouds as they form and float and disappear. Everywhere, I discover the urgency of defending beauty, defending what is holy.
Mary Sharon Moore writes and speaks nationwide on the nature of God’s calling.