“The peaks of the Mischabel were just shouting for joy this morning in radiant snow, after a day’s storm, and the late filaments of cloud were dancing round their crests. Oh it is a wonderful world.” 28 August 1901
Autumn chased us southward, tinting leaves with traces of color – just as we were leaving. Illinois. . . Indiana. . . Ohio. . . West Virginia. . . . Indian summer it was for us Floridians, just missing the long-awaited cool of a new season.
Until today. Autumn has finally caught up with us – in Florida! Temperatures fell during the night and I walked out to a cool fall day. A flash of color catches my eye. I reach down and lift Autumn into my hand: a single leaf aflame with crimson tinged in gold. A cardinal, bright as the leaf, darts above my path: Autumn on the wing!
Oh, it is a wonderful world! Whether the snowcapped mountain Lilias records in words and watercolors or the color-washed Florida leaf resting in my hand, all stands still in one’s heart brimming with the beauty. I want to freeze the moment – the Autumn-ness of it – capture it in a photo or painting or poem. But I know that my best efforts would fall short of the reality. Such moments can’t be captured as much as simply remembered. Remembered for the jolt of joy, the momentary transcendence from common cares and exertions that mark one’s ordinary days.
Capture an elusive heart-catching moment, no. But cultivate, yes. Cultivating an awareness of all that is best, is what we not only were created but instructed to do. The Apostle Paul echoed the Psalmist in urging an awareness of “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – ” adding “if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
Consider the pages of my well-worn red leather journals. So quick am I to take to pen to hack out my problems, to process my pain. So stingy with my joy, the pull of gravity favoring the negative. Yet both exist, side by side.
I must learn to live fully my joy in the moment. And train myself to record my beholdings of the heart alongside the beholdings of my eye. It is a choice, really, a matter of focus as there is much, indeed, to weigh down one’s spirit. But there is so much to elevate one’s soul as well. Ruskin once observed about a gutter: “If you look deep enough, you may see the serious blue of far-off sky and the passing pure clouds. It is at your will what you see in that despised stream, either the refuse of the street or the image of the sky.”
“It is at our will,” what we choose to see, upon what we choose to focus. Easy, one might say, for Lilias to exault in the dancing clouds and radiant snow. But she brought the same eyes to a North Africa that many considered parched, dull, even hostile. Her life-long friend, Constance Padwick, noted: “For her, God’s world in every aspect was supremely worth the watching. His ways in nature were her poetry. His ways with humankind were her romance.” At the end of her life she marvelled, “Oh how good it is that I have been sent here to such beauty!”
It is at my “will” what I choose to consume me. I can bog down with the weight of unfinished work. . . hurting or hurtful people. . . worries or concerns about the future. . . . Or I can be elevated by the wonders of this world – the leaf on the ground, the bird on the wing. . . the unmerited love of grandchildren. . . friendships nourished by email or phone, a meal or a visit. . . a loving God revealed through outward vision and inward quickenings. . . .
Pain and suffering will always be present in this broken world. At least for now. But so will the beauty and the wonder. Which do I choose to see when I gaze into the pooled water: “the refuse of the street or the image of the sky?” Which do you choose?
God of my Praise, to Thee be praise
For children and their loving ways;
For all the things that lighten earth,
For quiet peace, and merry mirth,
For every friendly bird that sings,
or little, lovely, simple things;
For loyal comradeship that grows
The stronger for each wind that blows;
But most of all because Thou art
The sunshine of my happy heart.
God, of my praise, to Thee be praise,
Painting: Travel Journal 1896, 1897