One of the challenges I have faced as an environmental activist is that of despair – of feeling that no matter how successful I am, the best I can do is slightly slow the rate at which we are destroying the abundance and diversity of our planet. Such despair can be debilitating, and from it arises other feelings – of grief, frustration, and anger – each of which can be paralyzing and destructive if not transformed into constructive emotion and action.
As I became aware of the extent of these feelings within me, and of their corrosive nature, I sought ways to remind myself that the world was not, in fact, going completely down the rat hole.
One of the practices I developed was to look for beauty around me, everywhere. As I rode the bus to and from work, I’d look out the window on a quest for beauty – in the sunrise, in the clouds, in the birds flying by, in the graceful shape of trees blowing in the wind, in the face and form of a woman, in the sunlight reflecting off the skyscrapers, in the rippling of the water – which even if polluted was still beautiful.
A theology of beauty, I came to understand, is a direct way to approach the divine. At that time, I didn’t think of this as a spiritual practice, but of course that’s what it was. In times of despair, one can do worse – much worse – than be a seeker of beauty.