In the classical school where I work during the day, school leaders often talk about teaching children how to discern what is true, good, and beautiful. They do this by thoughtfully choosing which books to read, field trips to go on, and big ideas to discuss.
In my own life, I have a tendency to let the noise of whatever is happening around me overshadow my own thoughts and choices. So last fall I decided to be more intentional and ask, how do I fill my life with what is true, good, and beautiful instead of whatever happens to show up on my schedule, newsfeed, or email inbox?
The last six months have been a crash course in learning how to answer that question. My nightstand is covered in books that guide and encourage: The Journey Toward Wholeness by Suzanne Stabile, Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton, Falling Upward by Richard Rohr, and Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer. One of the examples Parker Palmer gives on how to know what is true about yourself is remembering yourself as a child, thinking about who you were and what you loved to do before the world told you otherwise.
When I was little, one of the places I felt most myself was inside an art museum. From my first visits to museums in nearby Indianapolis and Chicago, I remember feeling a sense of calm and awe entering the vast open spaces. It felt as if beauty was the primary purpose of the space. The corridors were often marble and sparse, the staircases grand, and the galleries quiet. It felt special to be in a place where my mind could wander, and where paintings and sculptures that weren’t easy to explain could spark big feelings like joy, grief, fear, and surprise.
Whenever I travel to a new city, I try to include a visit to a museum on the itinerary, even if it is just for an hour or two. Last November I went to Charlotte, North Carolina to attend my first writing conference. I was planning to pitch a book proposal to a publisher for the first time. After weeks of preparation, my head of spinning, and my nerves were shot. I almost didn’t venture out of my hotel room, but I felt the pull to let go of my worry and fill my mind with something good and beautiful.
God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.
I had time before the start of the conference, so I visited two museums just across the street from each other, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and The Mint Museum. As soon as I walked in, I felt relief. I was that little girl again. More than that, when I looked at certain paintings, it felt like recognition. I could see what the artists were trying to show me, and I could feel what inspired them to make their art. It gave me hope for the art I longed to create with words.
I wish I could bottle that, or set a reminder. So often the responsibilities of everyday life make it hard to remember that need to surround myself with truth, goodness, and beauty.
But I will try, as I try to create other sacred rhythms, as I try to make time for important things. I will use Philippians 4: 8-9 as a kind of mantra.
“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” MSG
Image credit: Photo taken by the author at The Mint Museum, acrylic on canvas by Iruka Maria
Toro entitled “Without Exception Everything is Reflected in this Mirror.”