I spend my days with people who live in homelessness. And people who do sex work. And people who are mentally ill. And people who are suicidal. I am not complaining, mind you – just telling the truth. That is what my life looks like.
And my off time is spent reading poetry. And watching films from the 40’s. And planting crocus in my flower bed. And browsing used bookstores. And listening to, depending on the day, Bach or B.B. King or Miles Davis. Some people call this self-care. I call it pursuing beauty.
I have mentioned before that Bart Campolo was a huge influence on how I minister. The most important thing he taught me, by far, was to pursue beauty.
He told me that if I knew I was going to walk across the desert tomorrow, I should be gorging myself with water tonight. Likewise, he said, if I know that tomorrow I will be surrounded by ugliness, I should strive to gorge myself with beauty to prepare for it. My days are pretty ugly at times. So he insisted I hang at museums, read good books, watch good films, read poetry and play in my garden. All in the relentless pursuit of beauty as a prophylactic against the ugliness I will encounter.
The reality, I have come to learn in the years since, is that your ability to survive in the face of unspeakable ugliness is inversely related to the amount of beauty you allow in your life. And while doing this work has placed me in contact with all the ugliness you can stand, the beauty you have to look for yourself. In fact, the beauty often has to be hunted for, and even planned.
So, I am always seeking beauty as if my life depends on it – because it does.