Good Zeal

Things visible and things unseen

An on-line version of a museum exhibit entitled The Inner Beauty of Flowers (link below) has recently captured my attention. The exhibit features photographic images of flowers taken not using standard photography, but with x-rays. I’ve returned to the site several times, in part to admire the beauty and delicacy of the images, and in part to reflect on the nature of vision.

A standard photograph relies on reflected light to reveal the color, shape and definition of an object. In contrast, a radiographic image is produced when light is transmitted through an object, penetrating its surface and revealing something of its inner structure.

As this year draws to a close, I’ve been thinking about x-ray vision, trying to perceive the inner beauty of the year, trying to look beyond the outer surface of events, places, and people in order to see that which is within. Perhaps what seemed to be a difficult situation held hidden grace. Perhaps an unseen hand was supporting me when outwardly I felt myself to be falling. Perhaps a seed lay buried within a task that seemed meaningless or futile, its fruit still to flower and unfold.

The year has been constantly abloom with perceptible grace and beauty of every kind, but these x-ray images challenge me to not stop there. Events or situations that, like a flower, carry beauty on the surface also hold a deeper beauty. With the eyes of faith we can look within and see the delicacy of a petal-like moment of grace, the sturdy coat that protects a waiting seed, the strong stems and roots that support fragile growth, and the tender sweep of God’s hand that upholds us throughout the year.

Scripture helps us see this inner beauty, especially the Psalms, those ancient prayers that penetrate so deeply into the visceral depths of human joy, lament, gratitude and pain. The annual liturgical cycle grounds our year in the life of Christ, the imprint of His life held deeply within each of us. Silence also fosters our capacity to perceive the heart of the matter. And always, the Light of Christ illuminates our days, months and years.

On the last days of the current year and the first days of the coming year, our scripture readings during Vespers come from the Letter to the Colossians. The first chapter contains a beautiful passage that speaks of Christ:

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation;
for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created,
things visible and invisible,…
all things have been created through him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

As we step from one year to the next, reflecting back and looking forward, let us also look deeply, illuminated by the Light of Christ, and perceive the inner beauty of this year of grace.

Postscript: The Inner Beauty of Flowers was exhibited this past summer and fall at the Botanical Gardens of Smith College in Northampton, MA. From the link, click on “X-Ray Images.” Thanks goes to Sister Kathleen Christa, who is originally from that area of Massachusetts, for sharing with me these beautiful and unique images.

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