"It takes strength to enjoy the world," was a phrase I read this week that jumped out at me and sat on my shoulders like a hyper Chinese monkey, clutching my hair and shaking my head and inspiring me in a weird-animal-gone-wild kind of way, the way that only an imaginary monkey shaking your head can possibly be inspiring. "It takes strength to enjoy the world" struck me because it resonates with everything I know and want to know... the reality of streets I'm no longer inspired to take photographs of, the relentless days of pollution, the fact that I want to live with joy, the fact that I know beauty is God's gift to us and leads us to all kind of earthly delight not to mention worship.
I read this phrase in my in my current favorite read, "Liturgy of the Ordinary." The chapter was on the ideas of sanctuary and savoring. How beauty both in formal liturgy and our daily liturgy is transformative. Beauty is a pleasure that God has gifted to us in the world. "When we enjoy God's creation, we reflect God himself," reminded me of how our enjoyment of beauty is one way we can bring out the God-flavors of the earth. I loved this quote from G.K. Chesterton, on how "God revels in the pleasure of his creation like an enthusiastic child"
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
Just the other day, I was remarking how I had become under-enthused about the streets and world around me. I love street photography and it's often been a way to artistically engage and "love" the land we live in. But I was frustrated that I felt so uninspired lately. I've seen that basket of eggs a million times. I'm done with the woman selling vegetables and the passerby on their bike.
"It takes strength to enjoy the world" jolted me a bit. It made me think I was perhaps being a little bit wimpy. Of course it would be easier to revel in beauty if I had natural wonder all around me. But the way of this present world is a world of dichotomy anyway. There is always brokenness underneath that beauty if it's not already daily in-your-face apparent. Either way, in this present world we are in the business of the already/not yet, a world of tension where it takes some grit to know that beyond and underneath and all around the ugliness, there is also God at work, and there is beauty that shows this.
In my Liturgy book, the author quotes C.S. Lewis in "Letters to Malcolm" where he writes on the subject of pleasure.
"[Lewis's] advice: begin where you are. He writes that he once thought he had to start "by summoning up what we believe about the goodness and greatness of God, by thinking about creation and redemption and 'all the blessings of this life.'" Instead, he says, we ought to begin with the pleasures at hand-- for him, a walk beside a babbling brook; for me at the moment, the wonder of hot water and dried leaves.
And for me, it means starting with a walk on these uninspiring streets. I decided, I'm just going to go out there and take pictures of anything and everything. I don't care if it's a pipe. I'm going to see beauty, and make beauty. And I'm going to let it lead me to adoration... as C.S. Lewis also says, that "One's mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun."
"As busy, practical, hurried, and distracted [or perhaps depressed] people, we develop habits of inattention and miss these tiny theophanies in our day. But if we were fully alive and whole, no pleasure would be too ordinary or commonplace to stir up adoration."
These walks were going to be one way I could fight to find pleasure in the ordinary and commonplace. One small step to having strength to enjoy the world, His world-- given to me.
Thus my week of diptychs (images paired side by side). A visual and creative exercise to see the world in all it's ordinariness, perhaps even ugliness, certainly in it's dichotomies, but make something creative and beautiful and thoughtful out of it. Something that leads me to adoration. Don't be discouraged... it takes strength to enjoy this world.