Warning: this is another post about tea. And children’s books. And art. So basically the usual.
I read a lovely article this week by Amy Baik Lee about Beatrix Potter, china tea cups, and wonder. It was one of those situations that happen to me occasionally: that morning I had been reading The Tale of Peter Rabbit to Jacob, and marveling at Beatrix Potter’s intimate knowledge of the garden (cucumber frames and gooseberry nets and of course the amazing detail of her artwork) and that afternoon Ms. Lee’s essay, “A Child in a Fine China Shop,” was brought to my attention. So clearly it was time for me to think some more about Beatrix Potter.
Amy Baik Lee does a good job of laying out the salient details of Potter’s life, so I won’t go too much into that, but there were two points that her essay brought home to me: the importance of looking well, and of sharing what we see.
Looking well involves both patience and humility. We must first take the time to stop and notice the frills on the mushroom; then we must be humble – we must not think so highly of ourselves that we refuse to bend down, get our knees dirty, and wonder at God’s creation.
And then, to share our experience. Children do this naturally, of course. All day long it’s, “Come see! Look at this!” The challenge for us as adults is to turn off the tunnel vision that focuses so narrowly on our worries and our to-do lists and give wonder (and beauty) a chance slip in. In the end, Potter shared her many little discoveries widely – but before it was one of the best known children’s books of all time, Peter Rabbit was as an illustrated letter to the sick son of a friend. The size of the audience didn’t matter; sharing her joy did.
This was a great encouragement to me, of course, as I continue to write things that not very many people read. And if I were to judge my “success” by publications or clicks on this blog, it might suggest that it’s time to give up writing and do something more productive with my life.
But that isn’t God’s way, is it? The shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to find the one lost sheep isn’t interested in how many retweets we rack up. He is interested, at least in my reading, in our offering what we have to each other, whether that be a bouquet of flowers, a watercolor sketch, a few words, a home-cooked meal, or a shoulder to cry on. We seek, as Amy Baik Lee puts it, a “willingness to love prodigally: to place bone china in the hands of elementary school students, to “squander” detailed line drawings on a letter that a single child would receive.” To make a gift of self when the opportunity arrises.
All this is really just riffing on Ms. Lee’s thoughts, so if you still need some encouraging to “waste” some time wondering at beauty today, you’ll want to read her essay. She also discusses the piece with Jonathan Rogers (to whom I owe thanks for pointing me to the article in the first place) on his podcast. I’m just grateful that she, and so many others, continue to share their wonder with the rest of us.