Why Do We Love Beautiful Things?

Meditations in Motion

Friday was a rest day. I planned to run a 25k trail race on Saturday, my favorite race of the year and a tough one, so no running, no swimming, no Body Pump class, or yoga, or elliptical trainer, not even any push-ups for me.

I always get a little bit twitchy on days like these, restless and fidgety and wired, like I drank too much coffee.

Resting is hard, so I grabbed my dog Benji’s leash and asked him if he wanted to go for a walk in the meadow below our house, next to the stream. He gave his answer, a barking, twirling, jumping enthusiastic yes, and we set off into the frigid wind.

I did a 52-week photography challenge last year to improve my picture-taking skills. The challenge is no longer in existence but I found a new one that looks very good. Anyone with a camera can join. You can check it out here.

I was hoping to find some good subjects for photos to submit in the sere brown and gray winter landscape.

Meditations in Motion

It was tough.

 

To kill some time, I looked at an online field guide to identify the grasses I saw, but all of the photos looked like this:

Meditations in Motion

Lush and green, unlike the bleak dried grasses I was seeing, and my heart wasn’t in it anyway. Unfortunately, I could not get excited about learning the grasses of Pennsylvania and I can get excited over some seemingly trivial objects.

I can’t tell you how many times I have buttonholed some unlucky person at a gathering and bored them with a story of an unusual butterfly, wildflower, or seagull, but learning to identify grasses was too mundane, even for me.

IΒ  looked around for some birds to watch, just to break up the monotony, but all I saw rustling in the bare branches of the stream bank shrubs were brown and gray house sparrows, an invasive species, eliciting little of my interest.

Meditations in Motion

I thought about the warblers I look forward to seeing each spring with their bright colors, patterns, and stripes.

Experienced birders call them “eye candy“, as though serious ornithologists would find just as much joy finding hard-to-identify LBJs (Little Brown Jobs) hopping from branch to branch as the more colorful species.

Maybe they are eye candy, and maybe that makes me shallow, or at least not a creditable birder, but their flashy bursts of brilliance are what I crave each April after a long gray winter.

Why do we love beautiful things?

As human beings, we are attracted to beauty. Beauty is difficult to define, but, just as the Supreme Court famously said about pornography, “you know it when you see it“.

As it turns out, there are certain patterns we prefer such as the famous “golden rectangle“, a shape with a ratio of approximately five by eight.

Credit cards are a golden rectangle. It can be found in the design of items as diverse as television sets, books, the Mona Lisa, and the Parthenon.

Symmetry is another trait we find attractive. Many studies have found that facial symmetry is highly correlated to beauty, especially in women.

One theory posits we appreciate beauty because we recognize it takes so much work. The cosmetic industry, worth over half a trillion dollars worldwide, would seem to support that point.

Meditations in MotionSushi is beautiful, for example, because it costs so much time and effort to prepare. It’s an obvious battle against the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the tendency of matter towards disorder.

We also love beauty because it’s rare.

Meditations in Motion

The warblers I yearn for in the spring are migrants, mostly. Here for the day, then gone, looking for nesting grounds elsewhere, ephemeral and fleeting, difficult to see.

If there was only one blade of grass in the meadow, I might stare at its lone verdant leaf in rapt wonder but since there are billions, I ignore them completely.

What, I thought, if I could love as God loves.

Not only the beautiful and rare but the ordinary and common.

What if I could love every blade of grass, every rosebud, keeled rat snake, spiny sea urchin, and orb-weaver spider?

Meditations in Motion
Image by CESAR AUGUSTO RAMIREZ VALLEJO from Pixabay

What if I could extend my love to poison ivy, and tsetse flies, to slugs, locusts, tapeworms, and, even though they make my skin crawl, to ants?

What if my love could be so abundant I could offer it freely to the homeless man on the street, looking at the pavement with hopeless eyes, to the children in cold apartments going to bed hungry tonight, to the arrogant sonofagun who cuts me off in traffic, to the gay kid convinced he is a freak, to the outsider, the unwashed, the unkempt, the unlovable?

Each one is the image of God, here with us, Emmanuel in the sketchy neighborhoods, the forgotten locales, the thin places and holy spaces where God is closest.

Christ did not tell us to love only the beautiful, He said: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

In the meadow, I put my camera in my pocket, called Benji, and turned for home. I had not found suitable subjects for photos, but my heart was lighter, more expansive and my mood more exuberant than when we left.

We are called by Love to show each other more love in this old world. We must give love to the undesirable, the unattractive, even the repulsive. I still don’t think, though, we have to love the ants.

 

You can find the places I link up here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

77 comments

  1. This is a beautiful post. Isn’t God’s love amazing? Only with His help could I love some of the people you listed. I laughed at the end where you say we don’t have to love ants. I would change that word to spiders.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “What, I thought, if I could love as God loves. Not only the beautiful and rare but the ordinary and common.”
    And, dear Laurie, isn’t that precisely how we are asked to love? God’s love abounds in each and every venue, but too often, we refuse to see it. May we all see the ordinary and the common as a continuous blessing, and opportunity to spread God’s grace. We are His hands and feet, His love and voice. May He continue to bless us all!

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  3. I haven’t missed your point, but I was thinking about beauty today. When it surprisingly began snowing hard this morning, I asked Susan if she thought even the hunter/gatherers 10,000 years ago thought it was beautiful when it snowed. She thought yes. On my (icy) run, I was treated to seeing an eastern bluebird — a splash of color against a white and gray background of wintering trees.

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    • I ran this morning in Asheville, NC. We ran through a snow squall. It was beautiful, windy, and very cold. I didn’t see any bluebirds here, but I see them regularly in the meadow below my house, even in the winter. A little chip of blue sky on the tree branch in the middle of winter is appreciated so much!

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  4. But ants are cool, too! LOL!
    Your post reminds me of a story I read once about one of the first pilots flying across the Atlantic. There was a fly in the cabin and the pilot kept talking to this fly as if he was his friend during the long flight. As soon as something is rare we love it!
    You are so right, we need to make a conscious effort to love the common and ordinary. It will make our lives better, too!

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  5. Hello.

    Beautifully written.πŸ™‚

    Aesthetics, symmetry, and merciful love in one writing alone. I have little doubt, if you wished, and took some time, you could write so much more with the same beautiful expression.

    Thank you, and best wishes to you and all your loved ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Boy, am I guilty of this, Laurie. On the occasions I have to be back East in the wintertime, I practically STALK cardinals. But I suspect I’ll think of this post each time I see a sparrow. Not only did you make me stop and think, but I also appreciated the chuckles πŸ™‚

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  7. It’s our mind set and how we choose what to love or not love, isn’t it? I smiled when I read your last sentence about you still don’t think we have to love the ants. Wait till I tell you about the ants in the Amazon rainforest πŸ™‚ Thanks, Laurie, for linking up with us #WW2020.

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  8. This truth speaks to me too, Laurie: “We are called by Love to show each other more love in this old world. We must give love to the undesirable, the unattractive, even the repulsive.” It’s not easy to love the unlovable. But the rewards are great, even if only later and not in the moment. But ants? It is also hard for me to love ants. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Definitely not going to love ants. Malcolm was bitten by several the week before Christmas and ended up having to take antibiotics to rid himself of the poison and pain. Not going to love mosquitoes either – one bite sent a neighbor to the hospital for over a month. He was near death, but is now slowly recovering. I am not a fan of big dogs. One chased my daughter and knocked her down when she was little. I don’t like hurricanes, for obvious reasons. Cats make me sneeze. I do like the idea of ‘what if’ though. I am sure I would be a much better person if I could love that purely. Even though, I’m probably not going to extend anything but a finger to the guy that cuts me off in traffic. Lovely post with lots to ponder, as always.

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    • Oh, no! I had no idea ants could be such a menace!!! I am not a fan of big doge either, ever since I was bitten by one while on a training run. Thank you, Suzanne!

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  10. Thank you for pointing me to beauty in the ordinary. There is so much to see if we only met ourselves take the time to discover it. May I always see the beauty in the ordinary around me and not be afraid to share it with others.

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  11. That was a very thoughtful post Laurie – I have to admit, I often just go right past the sparrows too – looking for the brighter and more beautiful birds to photograph. You make a very valid point and thank you for sharing it with us.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you Laurie – most of my shots have been lucky with birds. I would need you to I.D. them for me. I have learned some birds’ identities from following Jocelyn Anderson’s site on Twitter – she has daily videos of the birds feeding from her hand – it is very peaceful. Have I ever passed her Twitter site along to you – I really enjoy looking at them, even if they are usually the same birds, but they gaze at her while eating. She shoots the videos in slow-mo on an iPhone 11.

        I am going to do a birds post later this month – it was birds at a memorial tree at Elizabeth Park. It is very peaceful going there. When the weather is nicer, I will be going there more often.

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      • When Bill and I visited Canada years ago, we went to a national park where we met a man who fed the birds from his hand. He gave me some birdseed and let me try it too. It was so cool! I tried it at home, but could never get the birds to trust me enough to eat out of my hand. Thank you for the link. I will check it out!

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      • You’re welcome Laurie – I enjoy Jocelyn’s daily dose of birds coming to her hand in such a peaceful way. They have a hierarchy and the videos, which are all shot in slo-mo give you a chance to be up close and personal with these beautiful birds. I know will like it as you like birds.

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      • I knew you would enjoy it Laurie as you are a bird lover like me. Every day she does a video, sometimes two, and it’s so peaceful to watch them. I understand that all the birds in this park are used to hand feeding, but she goes the same time every day, so she has a regular following. πŸ™‚

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      • I forgot to mention in one of my earlier replies…I have been watching the squirrels down here in Florida and thinking of you. They have some tiny ones here. Maybe they are gray squirrels, but much smaller than the ones we have at home. I am going to take some of them some treats tomorrow when we go birding by the lake.

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      • These little gray squirrels are becoming more common here in Michigan. A few years ago I never saw any and very few black ones too. I understand they are actually the same species with different pigments in their fur – that is pretty interesting isn’t it? I am following a new blogger who takes nature photos and does still shots and videos from her walks and she showed a gray squirrel with white paws which she named “Mittens” which lives near her home in Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was very cute. I hope they enjoy your treats and you can fatten them up Laurie. I wish I could help out this squirrel with mange – I also hope he can survive the Winter with the only fur on his body being his furry tail.

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      • I follow Wild Birds Unlimited on Twitter – they send out a lot of little tidbits on critters that you can buy “feed” for at their stores. Wild Birds Unlimited sells a patented product called “Bark Butter” – it is one of their biggest sellers and you slather it on a branch and the birds just love it (squirrels too). It has the consistency of peanut butter. They also sell seeds that have no waste. But anyway, they give tidbits about squirrels a lot and I have learned a lot from reading them. Same species (Sciurus carolinensis). I thought that was fascinating too. πŸ™‚ Today Jocelyn had a video of a chickadee – so cute. It rejected two peanuts, taking one in his/her beak and flinging it off her hand and onto the ground before it selected one. Gave me a smile and I have to say that squirrels aren’t quite that picky.

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      • I should follow them too.

        I have seen gray squirrels at home and recognized them in Florida, but I believe the gray squirrels we saw there were much smaller than the ones we have at home.

        That chickadee is a finicky eater!

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  12. It’s so hard to love the unattractive and irritating isn’t it Laurie. We seem naturally drawn to the easy and pretty (and superficial) often when we go out of our way to find something to love in the dingy or grey of our lives, it helps us see that there’s beauty there too. Lovely post x

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  13. I like ants doing their thing somewhere else – I hate ants marching in formation into my house. Here in Florida I am in a respite because we are COLD today and the ants stay in the ground then. When they try to take over my kitchen, I am a demon who kills. I just can’t have it in my home. I won’t even talk about roaches. I have had many internal dialogues with myself asking God, Why do we have roaches? I know He must have had a reason but I never can get it. Beautiful post Laurie. Hoping you find little flits of color to brighten your views.

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    • We were in Asheville today and it was COLD there too. It was snowing during our run this morning. We will be in Florida tomorrow. I hope it warms up before we get there! I question the wisdom of creating roaches too. I don’t understand it either. Thank you!

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  14. The first paragraph of this post excites me. We could be workout buddies. I do everything except running. I don’t know maybe it’s because of all I’ve been through in life but for whatever reason, my heart is often tender towards the homeless. I often stop and talk to them to find out their story. They are people just like us. How quickly we forget that it could happen to us had it not been for God’s grace.

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  15. Your post is so lovely. I appreciate your poetic words, like “twitchy.” Don’t we all feel restless and twitchy from time to time? Thank you for this check on our sense of love and beauty. You’re so right that if we see through different eyes, the way God sees.. beauty is all around.

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  16. Wow, Laurie. What a thought-provoking post! I guess, to an extent, beauty is determined by our perspective. When we look at people and things through God’s lens we’ll see them very differently than if we merely view them with our own biases and understandings. Loved this post.

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  17. I find myself yearning for the Bullock Orioles’ return about this time of year (love my flashy, local eye candy). But I’ve discovered many a beautiful thing in the deepest winter, too. It’s all about keeping my eyes and my heart open to the beauty of creation in all seasons.

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    • We see Bullock’s Orioles when we visit my son out west. They are beautiful! We should be able to find beauty in all seasons. It takes a compassionate, discerning eye to do so!

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  18. This is a thought-provoking and challenging post. I hadn’t really thought about why we see certain things as beautiful. And it is a great challenge to love as God does and to see as he does – seeing beauty even in the ordinary or in things/ people where we might not naturally see the beauty easily.

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  19. I so hear you on beauty everywhere….and on days I go somewhere without my iphone (its my camera these days) I make myself stop…”to take in the good” as I have learned from Dr Rick Hanson. There is so much more to remember and to recall that we need to do this more. I’ve used some memories as imaginary walks when I am having treatment at the prosthodontist post-cancer.

    Thank you for linking up for #lifethisweek. Next week’s optional prompt is 4/51 Australia 27.1.2020. Hope to see you there too. Denyse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have learned to slow down and look for beauty more, now that I carry my camera (phone) almost everywhere. Looking for photo opportunities is a good way to look for beauty. I like Dr. Hanson too. I watched him on a TED talk once. Thank you for the chance to share!

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