The Hopefulness of Beauty

For a year I’ve been writing about the process of getting older, with the difficulties and declines of age. I am 83, yet I’m so glad I’m alive! Reading Amy Frykholm’s recent “contemplative biography” of Julian of Norwich, I came across this nugget from Julian’s own writings: “God is being and wants us to sit, dwell and ground ourself [sic] in this knowledge while at the same time realizing that we are noble, excellent, assessed as precious and valuable and have been given creation for our enjoyment because we are loved.”

This is manifestly so for me, as on a clear day with the smell of frost in the air, when I feel exhilarated. The multiple tones of the color green do it for me. And all the other colors, and the textures and smells and sounds that bring my senses to full alert.

The arrival of a new idea or image for a poem propels me into such a fervor that my body feels exalted along with my mind. So much is wrong with the world, but so much of it is right, particularly the parts that seem to have spilled directly from the Creator’s hand! What are the chances that when I was born I would turn out to be me, to have the astonishing chances and choices I’ve had? Beauty, in any form or color, makes me sing and have hope. Can I ever be thankful enough?

In this telling, this life-tracking towards an end, I don’t ever want to sound morbid or sentimental. Sanctimoniousness will earn me no points with any intelligent reader. I’m not afraid of diminishment or dying; just curious.

I’ve promised myself to keep my soul open to God, to illumination. I see myself like a radio receiver directed upward, expectantly, but with hurt and frustration when the signal sometimes seems to go dead or sounds its buzz of disconnection.


I’m pondering a disparity, a kind of split in my own way of thinking and doing. I’ve always said that my aim is, in poetry and life, to reverse entropy — to bring a fragment of order out of chaos. I pick up a gum wrapper in a parking lot and wonder if that counts?

This means, I guess, that I prefer control to randomness. I don’t understand the impulse to gamble, and I favor safety/security/certainty over randomness, risk, chance, and uncertainty. Yet I see risk as a fertile opportunity to test and prove myself against the incidents or the accidents of my being. Taking chances allows me to learn and deepen my experience. The possibility of exploration and adventure entices me.


It has been said that as years come and go we’re either growing up or growing down. Perhaps it’s the direction that matters. Is it a matter of thoughtful choice and will that is being directed upward? Or does one wait for the dove to descend like an enormous, luminous winged cloud, to cover and transform us? The image of Christ’s Transfiguration comes to mind, that pivotal meeting on the foggy mountain top. I want the feeling, the emotion, the immediacy, the tangibility of Presence that Jesus’ friends felt up there, the Glory descending and blinding them.

And I deeply need something like that, with all my existential questions about faith, and why life is so significant. This morning, a blue, sunny day, a surge of vigor and resolve and the sight through our bedroom window of vivid greens and a purple finch in the cedars made me realize how utterly improbable is our entire planet, its richness and complexity, the marvel of human intelligence and ingenuity, with its growing sophistication and problem-solving ability. Its systems of reproduction and growth. And if that seems unique and improbable in the known universe, why should God putting on skin and bone and talking our language and making friends and disturbing the status quo so that miracles can become the order of the day be so hard to believe?

It is beauty that wakens me to God. I want always to be open to it. To be aware. To pay attention. The Holy Spirit is pushing through the screen of our humanly limited perceptions — so many clues and hints, like delicate laparoscopic probes that penetrate beyond the adipose tissue of our external, rational defenses. He comes at us unexpectedly. Our job is to be ready, to look, and listen and receive.

Luci Shaw is a poet, essayist, and author of more than 30 books. She is Writer in Residence at Regent College, Vancouver, B.C. Further information may be found at

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