Springfield’s hobo poet Vachel Lindsay worshiped in the church of the open sky and lived the gospel of beauty. As I remember my outdoor self who greatly enjoys her time in the divine church of the open sky, I usually find myself (weather permitting) with my hands deep in the dirt on the Sabbath. Often was I extended an invitation to join dressed up passersby on the way to their houses of worship. I cannot imagine a church inside four walls to ever be as inviting as communing directly with what I consider the divine, the higher power, life itself. I can’t really describe my religious beliefs, because I don’t believe in absolutes. I don’t hold much in the way of opinion for others to believe or disbelieve. But I do have feelings for what my perception of the divine invokes within me. My hands soak up the earth while my third eye soaks up sunshine. I nurture as I am being nurtured. In what possible way could I more directly commune with the divine than what I experience in the church of the open sky?
Francis Bacon said: “There it is. I don't believe in anything, but I'm always glad to wake up in the morning. It doesn't depress me. I'm never depressed. My basic nervous system is filled with this optimism. It's mad, I know, because it's optimism about nothing. I think of life as meaningless and yet it excites me. I always think something marvelous is about to happen.”
That is one way of living the gospel of beauty; doubtless there are many others. Again, it is hard to describe the gospel of beauty, because it seems to contain just about everything–all members of the set of reality—the milky way, little babies’ eyes, a butterfly’s proboscis, tears, cracked teacups, crooked teeth, wrinkled skin, sexy curves of fat people, duct-taped shoes, a bum who talks to your kid about Santie Claus, teenagers that cry in public, weeds that sprout up in potholes and in vacant parking lots—all manners of seemingly beautiful and ugly that can be appreciated for the uniqueness they provide to enrich our lives in the presence of never-ending awe of the immensity of what is (the wabi-sabi manifesto!).
There is an art of appreciation that comes along with the ability to recognize beauty when your eye rests upon it. If I see weeds reclaiming a parking lot, I don’t tut-tut the downfall of civilization, our bankrupt economy, and the lack of eternal infinite progress. Instead, I welcome the beauty weeds provide, knowing they are helping break down the pavement, to create soil full of nutrients, and return the vibrancy of life to that deserted place. If I am dumped by my boyfriend, I relinquish my longing, and remember that I am a strong person, complete in and of myself while at the same time feel firmly supported by those in my community of friends. Going through hard times is what gives us our strength, and at some point, we may find we are a fountain overflowing. Many times, our struggles become a turning point in our lives when we realize the blessings in disguise.
The shaman Bear Heart said, “Whatever we do in life starts with us. To be replenished, we need to keep emptying our selves to receive more. In that way, we become vessels, holding up one hand to receive the blessings and then opening up the other hand so that we become channels, letting those blessings flow into the lives of others.”
It does not seem to matter if a situation can be labeled good or bad; the art of appreciation is an attitude taken to cope, adapt, and thrive in the realm of chaos, which orders our everyday lives. One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read about is a Jewish woman who found herself in a pit, holding her grandson as soldiers took aim. She looked the baby in the eyes and cooed and smiled. I don’t know if this story is true or not, but I cannot imagine a more beautiful moment in the existence of humanity as her gesture of love.
Growing up in America, the art of appreciation is generally not part of our shared culture, with many exceptions, of course. I grew up in often-violent poverty in an atmosphere of ignorance, alcoholism, and fundamentalism. I think the deprivation of normalcy (whatever that is!) has enabled me to wholly appreciate the good in my life now. I live a life full of blessings. Whatever I need seems to find me without worry on my part. And I appreciate it all, especially the people and the interactions we have. I find my outlook on life mirroring Francis Bacon’s: life is sweet, and I savor each mouthful. Whatever happens, things will be all right. No matter what happens in my life, I will find the truth of beauty in the reflection of each particle of this holographic universe. The gods will always smile on me, and I will see the fruits of each blessing. I will continue to reside in paradise.
The shaman Bear Heart said: “The power of love—if that love is sincere and true—is the only force that can melt the human heart. Love repairs and heals; it comes from forgiveness being channeled into the lives of other people, making them feel their worth and stimulating their potential. Love is expandable. It can encompass this whole universe. It can heal.”