Creating Beauty from Death and Destruction
by Christine Sine
Our world is filled with ashes,
They are not just on our foreheads,
But in our mouths.
The horrors of war surround us,
And the calls of the innocent
Cry out for justice.
Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy.
Yet hidden in the ashes
There is hope.
We can create the beauty
We wish to see in the world.
Newness does push up through the cracks.
Beauty will emerge from our grief.
Light will shine in the darkness.
Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy.
Let us not ask after power but for justice.
Let us not incite war but peace.
Let us follow Jesus into the wilderness,
Uncover the ashes,
And embark together
On a journey
Of renewal and transformation.
The prayer above was my Ash Wednesday prayer for this year. It became my prayer for the whole of Lent. I paired it with an image created from ashes from my mask specifically burnt for Ash Wednesday, an exercise that I suggested in my last post. Both flowed out of the depth of pain in my heart as I watch the war unfolding in Ukraine. A sickness settles in my stomach. Images of Ukrainians praying in the streets fill my mind as I watch a nation struggling to maintain its independence while one man seeks to re-write its story. The thrust for power does terrible things to people and I am reminded of how Jesus did not seek after power but after justice. He did not incite war and violence but cried out for peace. How do we help bring that into being during this Lenten season?
It’s a struggling time this Lent and I struggle more than anything with my chosen theme for the season “Finding Beauty in the Ashes of Lent.” At the moment it is hard to see beauty in the ashes of the war in Ukraine, but then I look more closely and become aware of new life pushing up through the concrete. I see a courageous leader fighting beside his people. I see Ukrainians praying in the streets and in the subways and the churches. And I see them joined by people around the world not just praying but taking action through sanctions that will require sacrifices for all of us. Higher gas prices and food prices too.
Shortly after the war began, I read a fascinating article by Timothy Willard entitled Why Beauty Matters in Wartime. It was based on an equally fascinating essay by CS Lewis Learning in War-Time. A couple of phrases caught my attention: “The day needs you – and your humanity to pursue the beautiful.” and “Beauty is the reaching hand of hope.”
Shortly after that, a friend shared the story of what happened when the tallest tree in Wales got damaged by a storm and was supposed to be cut down. Instead, chainsaw artist Simon O’Rourke found a better solution to symbolize the tree’s last attempt to reach the sky. He carved the sculpture above, a beautiful image of a hand reaching in hope towards the sky from the tree trunk. My friend commented “From the dust and ashes of destruction and decay, beauty rises. God’s new creation is possible even in the hands of humanity.”
The same week another friend introduced me to the artist Karen Lynn Ingall’s whose years of artwork were destroyed when the Tubbs wildfire swept through her studio in 2017. When she first visited the devastated studio she noticed beauty of the light shining on the melted iron roof and of scraps of canvas and frames. She created artwork out of the ashes and it helped her develop a whole new style of art. It is documented in this very moving video http://www.karenlynningalls.com/beauty-from-ashes.html
Whether it is because we are filled with horror of the conflict in Ukraine or the fear that as prices rise we will not be able to make ends meet we feel that ugliness surrounds us, not beauty yet we need the hope that these offer us. This is a time to embrace not just the beauty of spring bursting forth in our gardens, but also the beauty of broken and scarred creation of fallen people and fallen trees, the ashes of ruined lives and those that suffer everywhere in the world. Beauty can be created from the ashes, but it takes effort and sacrifice.
And so this last week I have been looking for and finding beauty everywhere . I have been joined by a surprising number of my friends. Several of them commented that once someone pointed something out they were drawn to noticing beauty in ashes everywhere.
This is a time to embrace the beauty of creation – not just the creation we see around us, but the broken and scarred creation of fallen people and fallen trees, the ashes of ruined lives and those that suffer everywhere in the world. Beauty can be created from the ashes, but it takes effort and sacrifice.
Watch Karen Lynn Ingall’s video then go for a walk looking for beauty in unexpected places or take time to meditate on Simon O’Rourke’s sculpture. When you return home prayerfully reflect on what you saw. Now ask yourself: how could I bring beauty into the life of someone else today? Perhaps for the refugees fleeing the war in the Ukraine, or for a neighbor who has trouble paying for groceries and fuel.
Create a little bit of the beauty you want to see in the world.