Tears gathered in my eyes, and my friends wondered.
“The details of this world, no matter how harsh they may be, can be assembled into poetry and art.” (Robert Klein Engler)
Beauty Part 2
by Julie Leppert
You returned! Welcome home to Heart Working Women!
The way I see it, everyone likes a little mystery now and again. And Beauty invites us into mystery always.
However, some things in life we cannot possibly write or think about unless metaphor is invited to the telling.
Or a story begins it.
I need both, story and metaphor, to help me think of Beauty — to tell of its mystery in my own life. (See Part 1 here, friend.)
You see, our struggle with Beauty is about loss.
A thing all women know sooner or later.
About 10 years ago, I found a book entitled Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul. I read the first chapter. Sat it on my desk. And literally did not lay a finger on it for about two years.
It was my Vesuvius. I dusted around it. I feared that if I got too near, if I looked inside, it would incinerate me. Or, at least, spew hot ash all across my person, and I would not recover. I would become Pompeii.
You see, the Eldredge’s book was beautiful in ways that my soul could not endure.
So grace-work had much-work to do in me. (Some things remain the same, but, still, here we are, and I smile at grace-work’s play, after all.)
The book, cowritten by John and Stasi Eldridge – two beautiful souls, two sensitive voices – eventually felt ok in my hands to hold, to open, to read.
A friend who mentored me was right. It became a source of delight and encouragement — although not one that I would openly discuss with other women. But recently, while sitting with two capable and supportive writerly friends, one of them innocently noticed that a young female author – beautiful in every respect – had landed herself a major publishing contract and had earned her first big venue in a national book chain. I sighed.
Tears gathered in my eyes, and my friends wondered. I sort of got this much out:
You see, girls, we are middle-aged women. We have flaws. We are mothers. We’ve each birthed three children. We don’t look like the gleaming, polished young woman mentioned in passing.
Is there even a place for us?
But, yet, there’s something awe-inspired, something deeply comforting about your presence, your beings, your beauty.
Loss of Beauty pierces our world, our souls.
The story of Beauty lost is an ancient story, and the tale, if told, goes far beyond any memory of our grandmothers’ wedding bands that slipped over arthritic knuckles or their bridal gowns that yellowed over time.
Yes, the story, the tale, is an allusion to Eve and her splendid, exquisite beauty, her home, her world, her own loss.
Have you ever wondered how Eve “post-beautiful garden” got on with her life, her losses, afterward? (She lived a very long time.)
It brings up a very messy, complicated point – that relationship which exists, the present-day dichotomy between building a platform for ourselves in our image-driven culture and the longing for an enduring, authentic beauty.
In other words, the messes of life call us to think poignantly about Beauty and its nature, its very essence. Even its origin. It’s an important thing for modern women to contemplate.
If we are to be whole-hearted gals, women who creatively inspire life-giving relationships, what can we do?
We must sift through the messages of our culture and its gritty residue collecting within our own selves.
We can discern where the trouble comes in and sort out the truth from the rubble.
But where do we start? How does it matter and why?
I see only in part, so please help me out at the end of this by adding your perspective.
But the way I see it, the trouble we, as women, have with Beauty begins with disorder smashing into our lives. I mean real, soul disorder.
When Beauty, especially if it’s the beauty that resides in her person, gets ill-handled by other broken beings — of whom we must count ourselves among if we count ourselves part of the world at all — things get messy.
Even the mortar of our communities that binds us ALL either breaks apart or …
We lose something life-giving when Beauty is misunderstood or consumed greedily.
Does anyone notice? Have you felt it?
The misunderstanding or the exploitation of beautiful things, precious things (for they are one and the same) is a different matter than simply our diminishing bodies, as if that’s not bad enough.
It seems our world is bent on consuming beauty, in doing things to it which dehumanizes us all — in the end. (Yes, we also ironically and simultaneously have an obsession with retaining Beauty, especially of the body.)
I am still working this out, and every time
I get close to it, I am undone.
Then I glance up and see
a pink sky at twilight, or yellow roses
surprise me midday, and
I am put back together again.
This is more than cosmetics. In an instant, I take into myself a natural wonder, and it feels like a miracle.
It goes far deeper than a temporary sense of self-esteem.
It’s about a natural world
filled with natural Beauty
that calls out the name of One
who calls deep unto deep and draws us there —
to an ocean alive with mercy and filled with grace.
The images of Beauty, though powerful, are fragile.
The fragility of Beauty is how it matters. Fragile things are costly to replace. They require special care, special attention. One moment they entrance us, and in the next instant they may dissolve from neglect or outright violence.
And the reason why it matters is the very thing which Beauty does:
Beauty ministers mysteriously and deeply to our souls.
AND — here’s the thing — as women, we long for our own special role with things beautiful. (Yes, Stasi Eldredge, I hear you.) But for some of us, the Beauty that was woven inside our souls when we were stitched together in our Mommas’ bellies was broken early. It was mishandled. Yet, as grown women …
We are drawn to gently tend to the Beauty around us …
… and by engaging things tangible — or avoiding them out of fear or over-consuming them from a deeper hunger — we play a part central to our beings, whether ordered or disordered in the expression.
The peonies or lavender growing along the walkway,
the tidy hanging of clean shirts,
the folding of white napkins beside porcelain bowls,
the bathing of sorrowing wounds with gentleness
can make even a broken thing heal.
Yes, Beauty holds deep mystery.
When we touch Beauty, when we do beautiful acts and care for broken or fragile, beautiful things,
we are made the keepers of this mystery,
and we gain a peculiar love —
something far larger than our piles of dirty laundry.
For this love compels us to care in the first place about that pile.
So we dare to breathe-brave within our very own part of a story that takes, some days, much courage. Courage to transcend, to heal. To contend with the mess.
I for one like the idea of transcending dirty laundry and brokenness. Don’t you? We do it for ourselves, we do it for our families. And then one day we realize something.
The world, like us, travails.
And because it does, and because we are women — midwives by nature, those who nurture and bring a quality of life to our families and neighbors that would otherwise not exist — the essential question, the real question, is this:
How do we simultaneously offer life-giving grace to such a world AND heal from our own losses?
And this, dear sisters, is why I could not read Captivating for two years. It was too much. I had to go slow.
Here’s my appeal to us all — as a place to begin — no matter where you find yourself when it comes to assessing your losses with regard to Beauty,
let’s take one
Here it is:
Let’s not numb our soul when it comes to Beauty. Stay open. (For me, taking my bio photo for Heart Working Women was a way to stay open. Writing this, definitely, yes. Wide open.)
MUCH is at stake.
We could just pause here for a longing while.
I’ve said enough. It’s earth shattering. It’s enough to realize. Beauty exists. It plays a role. It’s necessary. No, it’s vital. It calls to our longing — that volcano we dust around.
Indeed, let’s pause for real.
Take a beautiful, brave breath, go for a meandering walk, and feel a late summer sun fall warmly across your skin.
Maybe think upon one of your most beautiful moments in the past few days? Would you share it here or tell a friend? We would love to hear from you.
I hope you will join me in a few days — for our 3rd harmony with Beauty. In it we will talk about how to engage Beauty in simple ways. (Read/listen to Beauty Pt. 1 here.)
(Hey! Why not join HWW’s email list so you won’t miss it! Go to www.heartworkingwomen.com)