Deeper Than Beauty

Deeper Than Beauty

I recently presented one of our supporters with a piece of original artwork, World Vision style. It was a lovely depiction of what appeared to be a peaceful village scene from rural Bangladesh, drawn by a Bangladeshi child…

Jim and I admired it together, wondering about the couple sitting on the ground in marriage attire in front of a tiny home, a child near another small hut, and what was clearly a church right smack in the center, replete with a cross on the peak of the roof beams. We both really liked the piece.

Then he asked, “I wonder what the wording on the signs say?” I told him I’d try to find out and get back to him, then took a photo of the piece with my trusty mobile phone to send on to my Bangladesh colleague. The reply I received sent my mind spinning for several days, until I remembered a moving experience.

A few years ago Janet and I had the privilege of decompressing for a few precious days at a friend’s beach house, perched on a cliff right over the ocean. It was our final morning there, wispy clouds laying a blanket of quiet over the calm grey water, and hundreds of gulls and other seabirds were circling the sky half a mile out to sea. There was a telescope by the picture window, so I used it to see the birds more closely. After awhile, I discovered the magic of following just one bird in flight. The telescope pivoted back and forth, lilting up and down as it went, tracking a singular bird along its circular journey. There was tremendous visual beauty in this, an airborne ballet of white feathers against the distant outline of Catalina Island… everything simply backdrop as I momentarily entered the reality for the one chosen flier.

In the sanctuary of that living room, watching the sky ballet outside, I noticed my eyes moistening from the stunning beauty on the other side of the picture window.

I was indoors because of the cool, cloudy weather, spying the birds from the warmth and peace of the comfortable home, a CD of soft piano music playing in the background. Then Janet opened the door and a cacophony of their distant squawking blew in on the bracing breeze, waking me to the realization that, in all likelihood, barring this gull being a direct descendant of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, my bird was probably flying not to create beauty in the eye of my beholding, but simply continuing its never-ending search for its daily bread, for sustenance to stay alive. These gulls hold no savings accounts, have no bigger barns to build for storing their bounties. Their stomachs ask every day, “What have you done for me lately?” The scene became a complicated mix of the mundane, the beautiful, and possibly the desperate all at the same time. Clearly, there was a deeper reality than simply the beauty I was enjoying, although beauty was definitely in it, as real in my mind’s eye today as on the day I witnessed it.

I remembered this experience when I re-read the translation sent by my Bangladeshi colleague of the child’s artwork…

Dear Brother,
Greetings from Bangladesh. I am so much excited to know that the gift you chose to give was an art work of a child of Bangladesh. I am very happy and honored to illustrate the artwork. Please, find it as follows:

1. We see a man is exploiting a woman in the drawing (from left)…This is one of the social issues by which the life of the children is affected much. The wording says, ” Stop repression on women..or stop exploitation of women…The first word is pronounced as “Nari” which means ‘women’…the second one is as ‘Nirjaton’ that means ‘repression’ and the last wording as ‘Bhondaya kor’ which means ‘to stop’…or stop it.

2. Now let’s point to the corner where a boy and a girl are in bride and bridegroom dress. This is another social issue in Bangladesh that affects the lives of children….Early marriage/child marriage is very common in rural areas, especially in poor families who consider their daughters merely burdens…Where there is ministry involvement through our ADPs or special projects, we have programs to empower the children in most vulnerable situations to combat the issues…They are working to stop early marriage through Child Forums. The little child with a play card represents the child forum’s participation in community development activities. The wording means…’Stop Child Marriage’ The words reads as ‘Ballu’ that means ‘child’…Bibaha..which means ‘marriage’…and the last word is again ‘Bhondaya kor’ which means ‘to stop’…or just stop it.

Yes, there is a church in the middle of the village…We have church in a Christian village…I think the child wants to say about his/her dream for the future….he/she wants to tell us about a society where there will be no ‘repression on women’…where there will be no ‘early marriage’…Finally, maybe it finds its expression in Kingdom of God values where there will be fullness of life…love and dignity.

To be honest, I struggled whether to share this translation with Jim. He and I had shared such a nice, idealized interpretation of the artwork, very pastoral, very peaceful, very pleasant… very nice to glance at and remember fondly one’s involvement with World Vision!

But in the midst of what appeared to be only a pleasant scene there was also drama, especially when one remembers this drawing was made by a child… a child who has had to learn about these social issues, a child growing up surrounded by very real dangers from those issues. I imagine this as something similar to a child living in the inner-city, creating art that depicts neighborhood violence: Only the uninitiated would see it only as beautiful, no matter how stunning the skill of the artist.

After a few days, I realized that’s exactly why I must share the translation of the scene with this supporter—because clearly we are uninitiated, because we are not aware. Because we need to walk a mile in this child’s shoes, and now Jim has both a lovely and a disturbing reminder on his wall of that child’s reality… as well as perhaps a glimpse of the artist’s childlike hopes for the Peaceable Kingdom.

Just like those gulls circling the grey waters, here drama and beauty are intermingled. The presence of one does not cancel out the other. There is beauty in every culture, and there is drama in every one. The presence of beauty does not negate our responsibility to understand the trauma. And the reality of trauma does not negate the invitation to appreciate the beauty.


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