As many of you know, I am just returning from a three month sabbatical. Generously funded by a Clergy Renewal Grant from the Lilly Foundation, I sought out places of beauty for refreshment. Paris was one of my watering holes, a destination famous for breath-taking churches, world-class art and exquisite architecture.
The great theologian Paul Tillich described God as “the ground of all being.” He wrote that God permeates all of creation and is the foundation of all. For Tillich, God is so interwoven in all of creation that evidence of God is all around us, if we only have eyes to see.
Tillich’s catchphrase “the ground of all being” came to mind when I encountered a metal sculpture much like this one in a small chapel in France.
This sculpture captivated my attention. As it was in the lower chapel of the convent where I was staying, I had lots of time to listen to what it had to say.
I saw myself as a human being standing in the midst of it, surrounded by its branches. Because God is “the ground of all being,” the Creator is the foundation, the root system beneath. The visible branches above ground all around me are the many and various ways in which God is revealing the divine. My work is to develop the eyes to see. Can I see God all around me?
I needed this sabbatical time to help me see again. Daily schedules can move at such a lightning fast pace. Cultural values of efficiency and productivity can keep me task-oriented and results-focused. It is so easy to lose sight of the God in whom I live, and move, and have my being. But if I am blind to God in the world around me, I risk losing meaning and purpose for living.
In my grant application, I chose beauty as a sabbatical theme. Beauty is what I turn to when I need renewal: the beauty of relationships, the beauty of creation, and the beauty of the presence of God. I spend time with people that I love. I go for a hike and take in a scenic vista. I soak in a work of art. I seek out exquisite liturgy to be fed in word and sacrament.
Beauty awakens the human spirit to its transcendence. The longing for beauty is a cry of our soul. The making and appreciating of beauty is an integral connection between human beings and the Holy Spirit. We can trace anything that is beautiful in creation to the Creator who is Beauty.
What are the places of beauty in your life? Where do you turn for renewal and refreshment? If you look closely, you might see they are branches of the tree of life, signs of God reaching for you, loving you in your daily life.
The Reverend Kim Seidman