September 11, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

 This giant spider web appeared by my prized dahlias one day last week and was gone the next...

These last few weeks of hurricane coverage and a Congressional recess have slowed political cable news to a mere dribble, making space in the temporarily quiet eye of the partisan storm to ponder this quote I saved some weeks ago from the John O’Donohue Facebook page: 

“All through your life, the most precious experiences seem to vanish. Transience turns everything to air. You look behind and see no sign even of a yesterday that was so intense. Yet in truth, nothing ever disappears, nothing is lost. Everything that happens to us in the world passes into us. It all becomes part of the inner temple of the soul and it can never be lost. This is the art of the soul: to harvest your deeper life from all the seasons of your experience. This is probably why the soul never surfaces fully. The intimacy and tenderness of its light would blind us. We continue in our days to wander between the shadowing and the brightening, while all the time a more subtle brightness sustains us. If we could but realize the sureness around us, we would be much more courageous in our lives. The frames of anxiety that keep us caged would dissolve. We would live the life we love and in that way, day by day, free our future from the weight of regret.” (from his book Beauty: The Invisible Embrace

The notion from the O'Donohue quote that “nothing ever disappears, nothing is lost” captured my imagination. I was reminded once again of precious experiences vanishing when I ventured to the yard Sunday afternoon for another look at the gorgeous spider web, pictured above, which I photographed Saturday by my much-loved dahlia bed.  Much to my dismay, the web was gone just a day later, with only an anchor thread now visible from a red dahlia to a wire or branch many feet overhead.

Where did the web go?  Was the spider finished with it?  I watch my dahlias carefully enough to know that the web was not in place a day before I noticed it, that it was spun seemingly overnight, and disappeared just as quickly.  I spotted the web on approach because the spider was poised at the web’s center, virtually suspended in thin air.  Said spider disappeared into the closest bloom as I advanced.

In order to bring that beautiful web out of the shadows, I took the photo from inside our garden, so that the web would show up against our fence, and had to work diligently to make the web visible with lightening and brightening filters. Acknowledging to my Facebook and Instagram friends and followers that #nofilter folks would not like this one, I am quite pleased with having rescued the web's beauty from no notice, especially since I found it gone just a day later!

Krista Tippett, host of National Public Radio’s On Being, said this about John O’Donohue in a late August 2017 airing of an interview taped before his death in 2008: he “often wrote about beauty. He believed that the human soul does not merely hunger for beauty, but that we feel most alive in the presence of what is beautiful. ‘It returns us, often in fleeting but sustaining moments,’ he said, ‘to our highest selves.’”

In response to Tippett’s question about his own personal pictures of beauty, O’Donohue answered: “When I think of the word ‘beauty,’ some of the faces of those that I love come into my mind. When I think of beauty, I also think of beautiful landscapes that I know. Then I think of acts of such lovely kindness that have been done to me by people that cared for me in bleak, unsheltered times or when I needed to be loved and minded. I also think of those unknown people who are the real heroes for me, who you never hear about, who hold out on lines, on frontiers of awful want and awful situations and manage, somehow, to go beyond the given impoverishments and offer gifts of possibility and imagination and seeing.”

You can read the rest of the Tippett/O’Donohue interview here.

In his Beauty: The Invisible Embrace O’Donohue says this: “The human soul is hungry for beautiful….When we experience the Beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming. Some of our most wonderful memories are beautiful places where we felt immediately at home. We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful for it meets the needs of our soul. For a while the strains of struggle and endurance are relieved and our frailty is illuminated by a different light in which we come to glimpse behind the shudder of appearances and sure form of things. In the experience of beauty we awaken and surrender in the same act. Beauty brings a sense of completion and sureness. Without any of the usual calculation, we can slip into the Beautiful with the same ease as we slip into the seamless embrace of water; something ancient within us already trusts that this embrace will hold us.”  

Next Sunday, during the first of six streams of spirituality worship services at Kern Road (based on Richard Foster’s Streams of Living Water), we will consider the contemplative tradition: the prayer-filled life, which focuses on nourishing our relationship with God and the inner life through prayer and contemplation.  I would add that beauty, receiving it, reveling in it, recording it, reliving it as/when needed, nurtures the contemplative way, most certainly helping to harvest “your deeper life from all the seasons of your experience. How has beauty enhanced your relationship with the Divine?