Gazing on Beauty

Most of my life I failed to appreciate beauty. Oh, I loved the look of sails on the sea and snow on the mountains, but mostly I liked sailing those sailboats and skiing those slopes.

Fifteen years ago, I learned to scuba dive. On our first dive, my sons and I wobbled our way to the sea in unwieldly gear, inserted our mouthpieces, lowered our heads beneath the waves, and dived. In fifteen feet of water, we entered a cloud of thousands of small yellow and white, black-striped fish. We could see nothing but a beautiful gallery of sparkling fish.

And the beauty of their colors, and the shimmer of their glory, delighted and enthralled me.

Yesterday I joined two friends to talk with a woman about her calling. And she talked only of beauty. She shared the glory of seeing a sunrise, and sparks of hope in the cracks of a frozen harbor, and satisfaction in a sunset-pond. And she spoke of the healing wholeness of beauty.

Hearing her reminded me of the first time I was captivated by beauty.

This morning I read Psalm 27 as part of my Scripture meditation. When I read verse 4, something again was awakened:

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
… to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord….

And I wondered, “What the heck does it mean to gaze on the beauty of God?

When Success Turns Sour

Fifteen years ago, a client of mine became president of his company. It all came about through a fluke (he was a mid-level manager), good luck, and a couple coincidences. He was very humble about his promotion, “It was just God’s grace. I hadn’t wanted it, I didn’t deserve it, and I never tried for it. God just dropped it on my lap.”

When Success Turns Sour

Within a couple years he began to attribute his advancement to his own hard work and brilliant insights. He said that his promotion had been delayed too long by people who didn’t appreciate him. He fired people who disagreed with his opinions.

He felt his genius was needed everywhere, and he was glad to offer it:

  • He convinced the high school athletic committee to change coaches because he knew a better way—though he had never played an organized sport in his life.
  • He became head elder at his church and bullied them into adopting a “better” Bible translation—though he had never studied Greek or Hebrew (not even Pig-Latin).

He once scowled in anger when a friend told him his zipper was unzipped (true story), and he sent his dental hygienist home in tears when she suggested he begin flossing (another true story). The slightest correction was met by him with red-faced fury.

Success turned a wonderful human being into an uncorrectable, insufferable know-it-all.

Spiritual Judo

Hope for Our Suffering

I reached my fitness high water mark at the age of twenty-four. I ran thirty miles a week, sweated three hundred pushups a day, and I brawled each week in the local boxing club.

Spiritual Judo

Used with permission: www.judophotos.com

In the midst of my peak physical prowess (never mind its short duration), I met a man with a black belt in Judo. He was forty-ish, chubby, and he wheezed as he walked. I think his exercise routine consisted of lifting large bottles of beer rather than heavy barbells.

He was the first black belt of any kind I had ever met. He intrigued me. Could this chubby, middle-aged man really beat me in a friendly fight? The fool inside me challenged him to hand-to-hand combat.

Not since infancy have I spend so much time on the ground. The lawn and I became intimate allies. I huffed, puffed, wheezed, and groaned (and maybe cursed, but it’s still all a blur) as he repeatedly—and effortlessly—tossed me to the ground.

It didn’t matter what punch I threw. Each jab, hook, and uppercut finished with me staring at the sky, gasping for air, and wondering what had happened.

The Hope of Our Suffering

As a college student, I wanted to spend a summer abroad, but money was so tight that Raman noodles were my Sunday treat. I found a communal farm in Israel (sort of like modern WWOOFING) that provided room and board plus ten dollars a month (and a daily pack of cigarettes!) for simple, manual labor. I signed up.

Alarm Clock r1

I talked with a few people who had “volunteered” in the past. They said that it’s difficult to gain the respect of the communal farm members; partly because the large farms attracted loads of volunteers; but mostly because the host members found the volunteers to be irresponsible, unreliable, and lazy.

I wanted the respect of the farm members, so I signed up for a small farm (in order to actually rub elbows with members) and I resolved myself to be responsible and diligent.

On the flight to Tel Aviv I read this verse: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Pr. 17:28). In my continuing determination to gain respect, I decided to speak less and listen more.

My siblings had been urging this practice on me for years.

The Hard Edge of the Good News

Last week, a delay by God disappointed me. It also shocked me awake like smelling salts.

Missing the bus

For ten years, I’ve wanted (and waited) to write a book on hearing God. Last month, I finally finished it. And I’ve paid a professional to edit it, commissioned an artist to design it, and found a proofreader to fine-tune it and a marketing expert to promote it.

I originally planned to publish Hearing God in Conversation last May, but I was hindered by a month-long bout with pneumonia, friends with unexpected needs, and my first ever (hopefully my last ever) IRS audit.

After months (and years) of postponements, my book was finally ready for release September 1st.

Then a friend slipped a copy of my manuscript to a publisher. The publisher invited me to meet their management team. And the team offered me a contract last week. But a contract with a hitch (because we missed an important publishing industry window). If I sign their agreement, my book’s release date will be deferred by yet another year. Argh!

I was disappointed, dismayed by another delay (though thrilled that they liked the book). I asked myself: Should I publish it myself in three weeks or wait another twelve, long months?

And then one of my smart-aleck kids (never mind which one) commented, “Gee Dad, you’re writing a book about hearing God; have you asked him what you should do?”