Toorak Uniting Church

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Keeping Faith with Beauty

Matthew 13: 3 – 9
Rev. Dr Christopher Page
Pentecost 5
13 July 2014


The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said: "Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear." In order to see clear, one must be still. It is argued that our best and most creative moments come from stillness or from our times of contemplation. Most often busyness doesn’t reap the rewards we are seeking. But a time of quiet reflection can produce a rich source of creativity and also help us to become aware of the beauty of life around us. And I think that is as important in our lives as joy is, as I mentioned last week.

The Russian author Dostoevsky went as far as to say that "Beauty will save the world." But that only works if we see that beauty is not just skin deep. Beauty surrounds each day. It doesn’t have to be a grand masterpiece hanging in the National Gallery, it can be just those fleeting moments when, as Roger Housend says, we catch "a glimpse of a greater dimension of reality, one that brings us closer to the source of being… Beauty is a lens or a window on to a larger world and one of the saving graces of being alive."

Of course by beauty I don’t mean prettiness or good looks. As the old aphorism goes, "beauty is not just skin deep." Beauty is expressed in our creativity. It is an inside job and needs to be nurtured and nourished so that it enriches our lives. And it is not just about painting or writing or music; it is about us and our lives. That’s the canvas on which we display who we are. But most importantly, beauty and creativity come from the still place or the calm place at the centre of our being. But also from a place that has been nurtured, nourished and prepared to be awakened to beauty.

Like the ground in the parable of the sower, it must be prepared and ready for the seed to flourish:

…Some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Now other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. While other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

Such is the importance in the life of faith, to be prepared and to find ways in which we can be open in our lives to the reality of the world around us and the beauty that we can find there. So how do we prepare ourselves? The story of the Woodcarver gives us some guidance.

The Story of the Woodcarver

Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand of precious wood. When it was finished, all who saw it were astounded. They said it must be the work of spirits.
The Prince of Lu said to the master carver: "What is your secret?"
Khing replied: "I am only a workman: I have no secret. There is only this: When I began to think about the work you commanded I guarded my spirit, did not expend it on trifles that were not to the point.
"I fasted in order to set my heart at rest. After three days fasting, I had forgotten gain and success. After five days I had forgotten criticism. After seven days I had forgotten my body with all its limbs. By this time all thought of your Highness and of the court had faded away. All that might distract me from the work had vanished. I was collected in the single thought of the bell stand.
"Then I went to the forest to see the trees in their own natural state. When the right tree appeared before my eyes, the bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt. All I had to do was to put forth my hand and begin. If I had not met this particular tree there would have been no bell stand at all.
"What happened? My own collected thought encountered the hidden potential in the wood; from this live encounter came the work which you ascribe to the spirits."

In stillness, our creativity is born and we are then open to the beauty of the world around us.

© Rev. Dr Christopher Page, 2014

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