Reflections: Determining what is beautiful

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The objects were black and white -- and old, yet beautiful.

As I looked at the pictures I saw character and history. My daughter had photographed the scenes with a regular camera. The images lacked color and excitement but they contain far more. What caused the three angles, an old dilapidated barn and an aged car parked in a field to catch my eye and stir my imagination?

As I stared at the picture of old whitewashed boards split with age and leaning against each other, I wondered about the story behind them. How many storms had the old barn weathered? Regardless of what it had gone through, it still prevailed. The foundation remained sturdy. There was beauty in that. I was drawn toward the simplicity and depth of a past era.

The old car, too, was awesome. It was now a throwaway. The hard soil underneath held up the car as it sat in the grass where it had been parked for years. It, too, possessed an incredible dignity and stateliness -- even with its worn demeanor, rusty parts and immobility. It still claimed its ground, refusing to give up. My thoughts remained philosophical as I tried to make sense of the unpretentious images of age and wear.

I saw life through those scenes. When one travels through countryside, unrepaired barns and sheds often stare back at him. Old cars are sometimes shoved into a wooded area or an out-of-the-way place. I leaned into the uncomplicated life that went on within that barn and the broken-down car. I visualized people milking cows, stacking hay way high, kittens licking milk squirted in their mouths and someone showing off his newly purchased car.

The beauty captured within the photographs was the wonder, awe and admiration you see inside someone. One experiences numerous hardships and joys during a lifetime. Some days are mild and sunny while others arrive cloudy and threatening. Yet people endure and survive.

Even when someone's appearance, body and health falter, his character, experiences and bravery remain.

I wondered how much better the snapshots would have been if they had been in color or of a new barn and a shiny car. They would have taken on a different meaning. Although tint adds glamour and eye-appeal, strength and significance would have been absent.

Such is life. If you had been present at Jesus' crucifixion you would certainly have seen no outward aesthetic beauty. You had to recognize the worth of it all. It was what came from the ugliness -- the value of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and the lessons he taught. The loveliness was found there.

Ellen Shuck holds degrees in psychology, religious education and spiritual direction and provides spiritual direction to people at her office.

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