When I make a gift to a place, whether it’s aural, visual, prayerful, or musical, I am only the first artist. Wind, waves, rain, sun, animals, traffic, or other humans will take over where I leave off. This gift is not meant for posterity or to boost my career. It is not about making something perfect, taking credit, signing my name, or restoring the place to its original state. It is a way, as Galway Kinnell puts it in one of his poems, to “reteach a thing its loveliness.”
The practice of giving a gift of beauty to a wounded place subtly, yet fundamentally, changes my relationship with the place. How could such a seemingly simple act make such a difference? For one thing, I have tested the mettle of my own courage and found it to be strong. I have realized that not only am I not dragged down into some loathsome circumstance from which I cannot escape, but that just the reverse occurs: I see the place transform, like a character in a fairy tale, from a deficient and debilitated thing to a presence that impels an expression of love that I myself am uniquely qualified to give. I discover that everything surrounding me is a potential component of the gift I’ll make. I feel empowered to act and know my act needs approval from no higher authority. I discover a sense of purpose and beauty under difficult circumstances. I cease to be an observer and become absorbed in what is before me. I choose to get involved.
It is when I’ve given beauty to another that I move past what keeps me separate. To give beauty is to marry the world, outside and within.
May you give and receive much beauty
and generosity in the coming year.