Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to really see the beauty of something. From the ledge of the Grand Canyon, Beauty shines bright as the sun. She wears a dress of granite and sky with sparkling shoes made of rushing river. Her eyes shine bright as the sunbeams shade the giant cliffs and valleys with color and shadow, revealing scope and texture. Her hair smells like wildflowers in the crisp desert wind. It’s difficult to stand on the ledge of the Grand Canyon and not notice her blinding presence.
But if you hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and lay prostrate with your face against the rocky floor, you may notice that your awareness of her will soon begin to wane. You may find that all you see down there is rock. Maybe some dirt or a crawling bug. These are the threads of her dress, but up close, it’s easy to lose her essence in the details.
I find this to be true of art.
Art is not created in ivory towers or scenic overlooks. The actual creation of beauty happens down into the valley with the dirt and the bugs. Art is created with blistered hands and stained clothes. The true artist treats each thread with the same care that she has for the whole dress. But down in the dirt, it is easy to lose perspective over time. It’s easy to start seeing rock rather than canyon, thread rather than dress–easy to be so focused on the single word in the lyric, that you can lose sight of the song, of why you even make music in the first place.
It is easy for the student to forget why she is in school at all. She is lost in term papers and quizzes, but loses perspective of what it means to be human in the blur of her frantic motion, and her experience as a student is limited by her narrowed perspective.
It’s easy for the dad to forget that in changing diapers and scrubbing dishes, he may very well be ushering the Kingdom of God into the world.
Sometimes it is good to step back and remember the bigger picture. I think that this has something to do with what Lent is about. It’s about remembering who we are and why are here. Lent is hiking up to the ledge again. It’s reminding us of our humanity again. We paint crosses of ash on our foreheads to remind us that we come from dust and to dust we shall return. We give up things we like as a way of taking a step back from the blur and chaos of our lives, taking a clean look at what we have set our hands to, gathering strength for another day of work in the valley.
So to all of us with weary and blistered fingers, I pray that we would find the strength to take a step back–to hike back up to the ledge again and remember the bigger picture of who we are and why we do what we do. We are sewing a dress—a dress that is the essence of goodness and beauty. It is like a Kingdom. It’s like a wedding dress. And when we remember this, may it fill us with courage to take a few deep breaths of that crisp desert air and descend once more into the valley where the work gets done.