These blooms are on my hybrid musk rose, Penelope. I happen to think that these are among the most beautiful things on God's green earth. The way the petals are slightly ruffled, the variations in color from salmon to buff to pink to white, the way the blooms unfold, and the sheer exuberance of the bush in full bloom, loaded with clusters like these with several blossoms in various stages of opening to expose their dainty circlet of yellow stamens to the waiting bees, who will wallow in them and then fly off with pouches of yellow pollen on their knees.

I also happen to think that a number of my other roses are the most beautiful things ever, as well all flowers, really - along with many animals and birds, children's hands and noses, sunlight glinting on moving water, Gothic cathedrals, Dolly Madison china, and pretty much the whole country of Ireland but especially County Donegal. Not to mention all the beautiful fragrances (jasmine incense, a plate of brownies, my grandmother's rosewater and glycerine lotion), and tastes (dark chocolate, champagne, lobster), and sounds (Morten Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna, traditional Irish music, nursing baby snorts, certain voices saying certain things). I'm glad I don't have to do an objective ranking of the most beautiful things in the world; I would never be able to do such a thing. I have a huge list; I actually think that the world is truly full of exquisite (and oftentimes quirky) beauty. Some of it moves me to tears.

I consciously try to notice beauty wherever I am. I also can't help but point it out sometimes, even when someone is talking to me. (This is called the "look, a bird!" syndrome. See this for the funny "Serenity Prayer by Myers Briggs types;" look under ENFP and there I am. I'd like to publicly acknowledge my husband and family and friends who put up with this behavior of mine with varying degrees of exasperation/irritation/indulgence. I know it's irritating/exasperating and I do appreciate your indulgence.) I am always scanning the environment, looking for things that I can stash in the beauty collection area of my brain or heart or wherever it is that this stuff goes.

There are times when I think I do this to keep myself from complete despondency. When all the news seems to be bad, when there is flagrant injustice dominating the headlines, when people are dying. When everybody seems to have lost any sense of what loving one's neighbor or serving the poor and oppressed and widows and orphans and resident aliens and doing justice and loving mercy and walking humbly with our God demands of us, when the world just seems irretrievably broken, and I am moved to tears of despair, I go looking for the beautiful. Not as an escape, not as denial, but as a reminder that God is good; that when God created the world, God said, "It is very, very good." The world is both broken and beautiful. It would be wrong to forget either.

Such is a time now. I am appalled at the blatant discrimination of all kinds we still practice towards God's children and the unsavory bigotry and name-calling that so many of us resort to in our passionate attempts at communicating our ideas about how we ought to live together. Nearly everybody of every party and persuasion has a derogatory epithet for those of other parties and persuasions; nearly everyone insists on putting others wholesale into categories which they can then deride and dismiss; nearly all of us struggle mightily with our own prejudices and tendencies to objectify others and to excuse our own intolerance. This is because we are human, and just like Jesus said, we need to repent. We need to be converted, over and over again.

And so I look for beauty to convert me. To remind me that this life is a beautiful life, that God's gracious gifts are all around us, that God loves us all and makes the sun shine on the just and the unjust alike and that the flowers are there to provide beauty both to nice people and to complete jerks. I look for beauty to save me from sinking in the mire that I'm into up to my neck, to save me from the ugliness that threatens to wash over me altogether. To help me remember that sometimes I am the one who lets myself sink in the mire when I discriminate, hate, dismiss, deride and otherwise "act ugly" as my mother used to say. To be convicted that the God who made bees with yellow pollen pouches on their knees and cocoa beans and rainbows loves the people I think are hateful blockheaded idiots just as much as God loves me.

The world is both broken and beautiful. It would be wrong to forget either.