Long ago, some wise anonymous person said, “never lose an opportunity to see something beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.”1 In her third talk in a series based on Wendy Farley’s book Beguiled by Beauty: Cultivating a Life of Contemplation and Compassion2, Rev. Joanne asks us to look for and see the beauty in life’s imperfections, not just in art, music, or nature.
In everyone’s life there are certain to be things that are “less than perfect,” and perhaps in our minds, therefore, ugly. Rev. Joanne gives an example that people in many families were taught not to “air the family’s dirty laundry” in public, because that would be an acknowledgment of imperfection and we do not want blemishes on our social appearances. On one level that is certainly true. Our egos often get in the way of our living fully. However, I think it is important to consider at least two other reasons for being taught not to “air the family’s dirty laundry.” First, depending on what the issues are they can have a very real negative impact on the family’s reputation, and effect the adults’ careers and the children’s peer interactions. Second, on the opposite side of that coin, we should not think that anyone outside the family actually cares. Some things actually should remain private and talking about them publicly may make someone sharing feel better about themselves for having done so, but the listeners may be put off by the TMI (too much information). Yet we can find “beauty” in both sharing and in remaining private.
Traditional Japanese culture has an idea known as wabi-sabi. It is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as a Platonic Concept, one of appreciating beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete" in nature. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence, specifically impermanence, suffering and emptiness or absence of self-nature.3
Rev. Joanne explains that within the Japanese tea ceremony the idea of wabi-sabi can be incorporated when, for example, a cup becomes broken. Instead of discarding the cup as no longer usable, if possible, it is repaired. Wabi-sabi is employed when the repair is made with no attempt to made the break invisible, but perhaps the crack is filled with precious metal to highlight the crack, not conceal it. This demonstrates the acknowledgment of the imperfection, but recognizes the potential beauty that can result. Like the image of a repaired cup, wabi-sabi remind us us that we can “fill-in” our cracks with something beautiful from within us – that which comes from the Divine.
An enduring question is, how do we access “the Divine within us?” Along with prayer and meditation, another way is praise of God. Unity does not see praise as a means of deferential adoration or fearful obeisance of a supreme being. Rev. Joanne tells us that praise is remembering that the very life that is God is there within all creation, and that intelligence is there.
The last five Psalms are known as “Songs of Praise.” The first part of Psalm 147 reads:
How good it is to sing praises to our God,
how pleasant and fitting to praise him!
The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the exiles of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars
and calls them each by name.
Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
his understanding has no limit.
The Lord sustains the humble
but casts the wicked to the ground.
Sing to the Lord with grateful praise;
make music to our God on the harp. Psalm 147:1-7
One of the things used in Unity to help us understand scriptures is metaphysical interpretation. The Unity Correspondence School has this to say about praise:
Praise has a wonderful effect on the earth and on the plants, the minerals, the animals, the birds, even on so-called inanimate objects. The earth and all in it has come forth from, and is composed of, God-life, substance, intelligence. Praise acknowledges these qualities and speaks to the intelligence in every form causing either growth in living things or the needed response from other forms of creation.
Sometimes explanations remain opaque. I have been studying Truth teachings for more than forty years and Unity teachings for more than fifteen. Yet listening to Rev. Joanne’s explanation of this passage, and having reread the above quote, this definition of praise still escapes me.
Offering additional insight into praise Rev. Joanne says the idea that as I praise God, as I center, I am gathering together all of those ideas that have been scattered (reference to Psalm 147, verse 16), and bringing them back into this place of spiritual consciousness and spiritual understanding. It is is that spiritual consciousness that we will be once more able to see things as beauty, there in God, here in this.
Emphasizing that seeing beauty in the imperfect is not the same as denying the existence of the imperfection or ugliness we see, Rev. Joanne encourages us to stay focused on the great I Am within. Seeing through loving eyes open with curiosity, we will discover there is a possibility within the ugliness for beauty to show up, and it shows up as us. In that moment we become compassion by extending a hand, allowing the beauty to express as us.
We are living in an challenging time in 2021. Much that is happening right now is unique to our contemporary situation. Throughout history in every country, land, and kingdom people could say their situation is unique – and they would be correct. However, what is always the same is that people are just trying to make their way in the world, and perhaps leave things in a little better shape for their children and grandchildren. One of history’s more recent visionaries, Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) shared his thoughts on positive change:
Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit, and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring hostility to poverty, racism and militarism. With this powerful commitment, we shall bodily challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when every valley shall be exalted, every mountain and hill shall be made low, the crooked places made straight and the rough places plain. Now let us begin, now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful struggle for a new world.
Acknowledging the great many challenges in his day, King encourages people to commit to working for a better world, yet sees the struggle to attain that vision as “beautiful.” These words have the power of Truth to them, as they apply equally well to today as to the civil rights era in America - or just about any country now, or ever. As a global species, we can always do more and be better people.
Now Go and Be the Light.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11
With each week’s message, we find a way to integrate contemplative practices into our daily lives as a way of opening the the Divine in deeper ways, training our spirit for compassion in all things. This week, we are invited into the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi – seeing the beautiful in the imperfect. When you want to turn away from and not look at ugliness, turn back towards it and ask, “what is here for me to see, how can I show up as beauty here?” Find beauty within imperfection in life and accept peacefully the natural cycles of growth and decay.
On a sticky note, write a reminder for yourself to “find the beauty in imperfection” and put it somewhere that you can see it often to encourage yourself that yes, today I am finding beauty in imperfection.
1This quote is often misattributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, but it is not found in any of his writings. It matters not who said it, its wisdom is true.
2Farley, Wendy, Beguiled by Beauty: Cultivating a Life of Contemplation and Compassion, Westminster John Knox Press (December 15, 2020).