Several years ago, I was in Virginia speaking at a Baptist Church. I’m always surprised whenever Baptists invite me to speak at their church, though I invariably enjoy myself. I gave my first sermon in a Baptist church in Vincennes, Indiana. I was 21 years old, their pastor was on vacation, and my grandmother, wielding her power as only a Baptist can, informed the elders her grandson would be preaching in their pastor’s absence. So I drove down there and gave a rousing sermon on pacifism on the same Sunday they honored the town’s military veterans, a feature of the worship service my grandmother had failed to tell me about. Then they made me stand at the back door and shake everyone’s hand as they were leaving while they told me it was a good sermon. Some of them didn’t want to, I could tell, but my grandmother made them.
So there I was in Virginia and I met this couple and we’ve kept in touch via the occasional email, but now I hear from them every day. When the pandemic started, they recorded a daily song and sent it out to their friends, of whom I am one. Just doing their part to add a little beauty and loveliness to our troubled world. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if each of us did one lovely thing every day and sent it out into the world? Of course, if you send forth beauty, there must be those who appreciate it in order for the circle to be completed. There must be applauders, and they must have something to applaud.
We’ve been thinking about the characteristics of grown-up people. Let’s retrace what we’ve learned so far. We defined grown-up people as someone who is consciously aware of their feelings, and takes responsibility for their decisions and actions. Remember that? We’ve said grown-up people are capable of self-regulation. Then we said grown-up people practice perspective, having the ability to give situations and circumstances their appropriate weight. They delay gratification. They come down always on the side of justice and labor to create societies whose blessings flow to all and not a few. We’ve said grown-up people know how to be angry and use anger constructively, not destructively. Just last week, we said grown-up people self-differentiate. That is, they have the ability to be in emotional contact with others while still being autonomous in their own emotional functioning.
Today, I want to add another trait to our growing list. At this rate, we’ll have a book in a month or so. And when we do, let’s be sure to include this chapter. Grown-up people work at creating beauty, and appreciate beauty when they encounter it. Some 550 years before Jesus was born in Palestine, Confucius was born in China. We in the west haven’t fully appreciated his wisdom. What I remember about him is silly jokes. Confucius say, “He who sits on tack will rise quickly.” Of course, when we reduce someone to a joke or punchline, we don’t have to take them seriously. Among other things, what Confucius really said was, “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. And what is beauty? It is that which stirs and delights our senses, that which enlivens us. Though we often use the term when discussing someone’s appearance, true beauty transcends our appearance. When my siblings and I were little, my parents hired a babysitter I adored. This past winter I was reminiscing about her with my sister, and asked if she remembered her.
“Oh, yes,” she said.
I asked her to tell me what she remembered about our babysitter.
“She was in her 60s,” my sister said. “And very heavy, and was covered with moles.”
I didn’t remember any of that. But then my sister said,
“And she shook when she laughed and loved to hold us.”
That I remembered.
Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.
Grown-up people not only create beauty, they know beauty when they see and experience it. It is not a beauty defined by a culture of fashion, but by its capacity to love and inspire. Beware of people to whom everything and everyone is ugly, who are daily surrounded by loveliness, magnificence, and beauty, but see them not. Beware of those whose souls are never stirred by music, awed by nature, or moved by love.
Beware of those indifferent to human suffering and human accomplishment, whose lives are marked by apathy and boredom, those who are strangers to curiosity and attentiveness. For those who cannot see and appreciate beauty lack the capacity to see and appreciate you.
One of the more powerful stories in the Bible is the story of Jesus coming upon a man living in a cemetery, bound with chains, unfit for human company. Luke said for a long time he had worn no clothes. Matthew said he was tormented by demons. Mark said he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones. But Jesus saw a beauty in him others did not. Remember, everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. Naming both the evil the bound the man and the beauty awaiting him, Jesus called it forth, and Mark said, “left the man clothed and in his right mind.”
This is what grown-up people do. Because they are spiritually and ethically evolved, they see beauty and potential where others do not. In so doing, they cast out the worst in us and summon forth the best. We Quakers call that “seeing that of God in every person.” May this week you have the eyes to see and the ears to hear the beauty you have not always seen and heard. May you, like the man bound in chains, be healed of every ugliness and discover your right mind, seeing the beauty not only in yourself, but in everyone you meet.