The title of this Journal post is part of a verse found in the Book of Isaiah 61:3. The full verse is: To all who mourn in Israel, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes/a joyous blessing instead of mourning/festive praise instead of despair.
When I began writing about ‘ashes’ and the ‘crown,’ there appeared a brilliant crimson cardinal singing an endless song, sitting alone on the closest branch of the closest tree outside the window where my writing desk resides. I was compelled to name him Isaiah.
The Ashes In The Message
In Isaiah’s time, ashes represented an old covenant of laws; enslavement to brutal and inhumane behaviors; cruelty upon cruelty; despair and bondage — all of which the Israelites mourned. When Pope Francis recently visited the United States to address a joint session of Congress, he raised issues of some overwhelming and disturbing ashes-of-today: homelessness and poverty, violence and abuse, conflicts throughout the world, brutal atrocities.
The Pope’s message focused on the marginalized among us, especially children. In today’s world, we have powerful corporate and global economies as well as generously-funded foundations and ministries who can, and do help, yet 1 billion children live in poverty (1 in 2 children worldwide); 640 million live without adequate shelter; 400 million have no access to safe water; 270 million have no access to health services.
There is Syria with millions of beleaguered, displaced people, half of whom are children.
When we half listen to, or read about, these issues and don’t take the time to look into our hearts, we remove ourselves from actuality; it is easier to ignore. By doing so, though, we shield our hearts from truth.
These are ashes that need not, should not, exist.
The rousing, standing ovation from both sides of the aisle when Pope Francis invoked the Golden Rule, Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you, was inspiring, hopeful, yet disquieting too. I wondered if it was a one-off moment for the two houses of Congress, or, if some hearts in our government as well as those millions who watched and listened had turned to tender, merciful flesh rather than remain crusted in stone.
I am not a politician, activist, or devoted to a specific religion. I am a woman of faith who tries her best to follow the teachings of Jesus. I witnessed firsthand, though, a humble, gentle man truly walk in His footsteps as his face and eyes lit up like a celestial display of Roman candles when he mingled and said prayers with the homeless at St. Patrick’s in Washington, D.C.
The Pope was gentle in his speech, but when I re-read the transcripts I imagined him evangelizing the words of J. Philip Newell and saw him as a young Jesuit raising his voice in a stirring hosanna that would carry over any great assembly: Thanks be to You for the men and women whose passion for the poor is undying/whose prayer for the oppressed is tender/whose defense for the wronged is fierce. Grant me the strength to cry for justice, to be patient for peace, to be angry for love.
The Beauty In the Crown
Whether you agree with what I’ve said, or not, we can acknowledge that there are ashes and our beloved country and the world are broken. But what is this ‘crown of beauty’? Isaiah, one of the great prophets in the Hebrew Bible, prophesied the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, and the New Covenant: leaving the old laws behind; obtaining salvation and the forgiveness of sins; the wiping away of tears; living a new life in joy, peace, and love.
For me, the beauty of the crown embodies loving-kindness, forgiveness, mercy, grace, compassion, wisdom, peace…and, most of all, love. Inspiration and faith are in the crown of beauty. Caring and doing, in whatever ways we can, especially small daily acts of comfort and kindness, are in the crown of beauty. Treating one another as we wish to be treated no matter our faith, sex, race, weakness, disability, neediness, is most assuredly in the beauty of the crown.
Using Ourselves Up
I write and take pictures for a living. I have often wondered if it is enough. But, these gifts are what were given to me. They are as much a part of me as breathing. This is what I know how to do best that honors the God I love and it would grieve my soul not to use up every gift given. I hope and pray that in some small way my writing and images contribute to the crown of beauty if only one soul is soothed and one mind is quieted; that joyous blessing and festive praise are present — not to forget the ashes in our splintered world, but to reveal the abundance of beauty, hope, and grace that are available to each of us so that we may be renewed to tend to what is needed most: the love of one another, and for me, a devoted love for the God who loves us all.
What Happened After “My” Isaiah
I wake before dawn most mornings. After I consume a bracing mug of hot tea and milk, I write ideas for my book and this Journal, and then read. Isaiah departed and I continued pounding away on my computer keys. Once in a while I am taken by surprise and that is when I believe Spirit most guides my eye, hand, and camera. I heard munching of brush outside my apartment window, which is surrounded by woodlands. There was a buck with two spotted fawns. No doe was present. This was taken at first light — a gift of grace.
I often photograph from my window-to-the-world. But this particular morning, I took off on a brisk walk. My very first sight was an extravaganza of sunflowers in bloom. They were absolute aberrations in size; reminiscent of mythical giantesses! I realized, too, that their grand, happy presence was the last of summer, heralding the onset of autumn. What a happening this was!
These September hydrangeas were not shades of deep purple or pristine white. They appeared to have been dipped in a sepia tint, washing their tips to a muted rose-brown. I could not resist them, for they were not only lush, but also otherworldly.
The balance of my day took on its tempo of doing things, talking to people, cooking, and more reading and writing. Later, as dusk began turning day into night, The Buck returned. It was the very same one from early morning, for the twin fawns were in the brush. He walked out from the woodland, stood solidly and resolutely still, and looked straight at me through the window. And, yes, I thanked the Lord once again for this image.
The Book of Abbey
Abbey has asked me to pen some words for her. She is preoccupied with jumping from window to window as our autumnal weather arrives, for there is much scurrying about of furry and feathered creatures outside of her reach.
She would tell you that I’ve been absorbed in writing, reading, and the taking and making of images. I believe Abbey would have preferred I not take this picture, and allowed her the privacy, or reverie, she was in. But I could not resist. Abbey is almost incessantly sleeping next to the cross as well as on the open bible. A friend said, She knows this is important to you and is absorbing The Word for you. We’ll see.
The other spot Abbey has chosen to occupy is my desktop, computer keyboard…wires, papers, and all. I took this picture after I already moved her twice, and she knew she was busted! I decided to keep this image for it captured stillness and motion at one time!
A dear friend is away for three weeks and I have the privilege of caring for her cat, Guinness. I fall in love with most animals, but Sir Guinness, is noble, handsome, loving, and my Abbey would say, A real hunk. I love this gentle boy. His markings are those created by The Great Artist.
Abbey sends her love to all of her fans …
May I leave you with a blessing? It doesn’t matter to me how you believe, or what faith you follow, if any. I am soothed by the words of this Psalm and share it with a heart full of love.
O satisfy us in the morning with Your loving-kindness, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. ~ Psalm 90:14
In an earlier version of this writing, I spoke against Planned Parenthood, believing I had all the facts. A few months ago, when the ‘smoke and mirrors’ began with the videos, I did extensive research, listening to, and reading, all sides of the debate. However, at the time of publishing this weekend, I did not update that research. Had I done so, I would have expunged those paragraphs in this Journal post. I apologize to all my readers for this error.