The lotus flower in the water-garden in my yard is blooming. The single blossom is astonishing in its beauty – pale, creamy yellow and bigger than both of my hands put together. It stands over two feet above the surface of the water on its sturdy stem, presiding gracefully over the garden with the delicate, and yet regal, symmetry of its form. The bloom is tantalizingly brief. It opens its lovely petals in the morning, exposing its extravagant center, and then closes them demurely only a few hours later in the early afternoon, returning to the form of a greenish bud about the size of my fist. This ephemeral beauty will grace our yard for only a few days before the petals fall off altogether.
I stood in our yard this morning admiring the blossom. The lotus flower is edible, but despite my particular enjoyment of eating flowers, I have no desire to eat this one. I don’t even have the slightest urge to tear off a petal - not even a tiny piece of a petal from a spot where I won’t see it - to find out what it tastes like. Nor do I want to pick it and bring it inside where I can see it up close and more conveniently as I go about my daily tasks in the house. I just stood there in the yard looking. Stood outside with dirty breakfast dishes still on the table inside (food scattered all over the floor beneath the baby’s high chair) and gazed upon the magnificent loveliness of the flower.
It was life-giving to my soul to simply admire something beautiful. Not to think of how I could possess it, use it, make it fit into my life more conveniently, or get it to provide me with some other amazing sensation, such as a sweet, novel taste. I admired the splendid single blossom and did nothing else, desired nothing else. It was extraordinarily peaceful to not want anything for a moment, to pause in the midst my usual daily morning routine and hurry just to gaze at something beautiful. I accomplished and achieved nothing tangible in this pause, but I think it was the best “use of time” in my entire day. For a brief eternal moment, even the incessant chatter of my overly-busy mind was quieted, hushed into worshipful silence by beauty. And so it was I prayed this morning.
It may seem silly, shallow, perhaps even selfish in a world of trouble and need, but it’s not. The prayer of gazing upon something beautiful without the desire to possess, control, or utilize it is one of the truest forms of prayer. The spiritual fruits of this prayer are gratitude, humility and a sense of calm peace, a soul re-filled with a sense of wonder. Beauty can shift us to a deep, soothing awareness that our self is not the most important thing around, and in that moment lies a true beginning of the end of violence to ourselves and others. Beauty has the power to move us – or perhaps to still us – like this, to hush us for a moment even in the midst of our soul-killing hurry and busyness. In so doing, Beauty opens doors to the Holy, opens up cracks in our hardened souls for God’s grace to enter in and do God’s transformative work with us. This summer, while it is perhaps a little easier – while there are beautiful things abundant to be seen, I invite you to gaze at something beautiful. You may be surprised by how fully you will pray.