I’ve been thinking for the last week about writing on a theme during Lent, and I decided I should write about beauty. I live in a very visually ugly city, and my job deals with ugliness in human interactions. It’s easy for me to fall into negativity, which I’ve found myself doing more and more lately. One of my pastors in Houston preached a sermon on beauty right before I came to Mozambique. He challenged us to recognize beauty and engage with beauty around us. I thought that was an easy thing to do in America where people live more comfortably, generally experience good health, and place a value on aesthetic appeal. This sermon comes to mind often here as I walk through filth – both literal and metaphorical – on a daily basis. So I wanted to challenge myself this Lent to see beauty around me here, more than just in a long weekend away to an isolated beach. I want to see beauty in Beira. I want to look at life around me with softer eyes and a softer heart.
But what do I do when I’m in the middle of laughing and chatting with some colleagues at lunch and another colleague arrives to tell us that her brother’s baby has just died? Her brother’s wife had taken the 3-month-old girl to the machamba (field) in the morning and set her down on the raised earth between flooded paddies. Mothers do it all the time. This time the baby fell into the water and drowned. Where is the beauty in that? Where is the beauty in a young mother wondering now and probably for the rest of her life why she didn’t keep that tiny girl tied to her back? Where is the beauty in her husband and other family members probably wondering the same thing? Where is the beauty in explaining to a 3-year-old sister why she will not be sleeping next to her baby tonight? Or ever again?
I just spoke with the baby’s father, who was one of my research trainees from last year – a tall, handsome young man in his early twenties with natural leadership abilities and a beautiful baritone singing voice. Yesterday he dropped a resume off at the office, all smiles and charm. Today he was fighting back tears but needing to be a strong man for his family. He should be with them mourning right now, but instead he is running around town trying to round up money to transfer the baby from the local bairro clinic to the central hospital so that she can be embalmed and buried. Then he has to round up more money to buy a casket, pay for documents, and hire a truck on the day of the funeral for people to travel from the mortuary to the cemetery. There is a double tragedy here – poor people cannot afford death. Where is the beauty in that? Where is the beauty in being consumed with financial worries at a time like this? Where is the beauty in having to buy the tiniest casket available?
It’s not beautiful at all.
Yet just yesterday we were reminded that from ashes we come and to ashes we return. Whether at 90 years or three months, to ashes we return.
I have Sandra McCracken’s voice repeating over and over from my speakers right now: “Call him good, my soul.” I guess that’s where the beauty lies. He is good. All the time, He is good. He is good because He is the Comforter. I don’t believe God killed this child. I don’t know why He let it happen, but I don’t think He did it. To believe that He is still good and to believe that He will comfort, I can see some beauty there.