Beauty and Making Cookies

42-15885238On the afternoon of the day my friend died in a hospital bed in Iowa City, my daughter and I made cookies. In the Kansas kitchen overlooking the finch feeder, while seventeen finch gobbled two pounds of thistle seed (95 cents a pound at Allen Farm and Feed), we measured flour and brown sugar, butter and ginger, and mixed them in the yellow bowl. Patting out the dough on the cookie sheet, we stopped to taste. “Umm, very good!” she said.

There, while she stood on the orange chair with a brown apron hanging to her ankles, I saw for the first time how the smooth curve of her cheek presses against space with such exquisite beauty. 

How is it that we linger for days and weeks over the latest atrocity and evidence that evil is afoot and keeping steady employment? As a nation, we dissect and examine sin and evil from every angle, as we are seduced into complicity through our own fascination with it. We ask the best minds of our day to analyze and respond to iniquity yet rarely consider intently the nature of beauty and how to create and sustain it in our lives and world.

Many seek beauty, but it is more often to possess it than to appreciate it.  As I impose my will on beauty, as I shape and prune it, cage it in my heart, and bow down and worship it with my reason and my money, it becomes a god, something I look to for my well being and satisfaction. Then beauty turns on me with its shrewish demands and shrivels into something harsh and burdensome which sends me off scurrying to polish it, insure it, buy more of it. No more is beauty a source of delight and joy. I have diminished it and myself by my lust, greed, and envy.

A young nurse stammered to tell me of the beauty she had seen last week. “I went for a walk with the dog down by the pond and I have never seen anything like it. After all the rain, the pond was brimming, spilling over the sides. I heard the water roaring through the drainage ditch. I saw God’s power, and everything was so green.” Tears glistened in her eyes.

True beauty is free. Our spendthrift God scatters it with lavish prodigality over the universe. The Trinity ceaselessly dusts us with beauty like pear blossoms sifting in white drifts on the lawn.

Would that we could approach our lives like kids on an Easter egg hunt at dawn – our world drenched with wonder and surprises nestled under every bush. When Moses was on the far side of the wilderness keeping his father-in-law’s flock, he turned aside to see the great sight of a burning bush. What amazes me about Moses is that he turned aside. He stopped doing what he was doing, turned his attention away from his work, and risked letting a sheep wander from his protective gaze, to see why the bush was not burned up. (Exodus 3)

Think of it. The liberation of the Hebrews and the rest of salvation history rested on this man’s freedom to wonder. The capacity for wonder and curiosity are essential to spiritual growth as well as to justice. A lot of prophets and saints knew how to dilly dally, how to daydream, how to poke along and stop and sniff the odd, the curious and find the hidden treasure under the lilac bush. The expectation and consent to be dazzled and amazed set the stage for God’s entrance into our lives.                 

                                    Diana and easter egg

May you discover the courage and grace this day to dilly dally,
to wonder, and to be astonished.



This post is excerpted from a book I wrote, Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are, Sheed & Ward, 2000. pp 192-194. You might like it.

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