Have you ever seen a photograph that filled you with longing? Or stirred something in you? Maybe it made you want to be there, wherever the picture was taken, experiencing whatever was going on in that moment in time.
C. S. Lewis understood that feeling or stirring. He wrote, “We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” (The Weight of Glory)
I have a photograph that makes me feel that way. It’s a photo of the lavender field in front of Senanque Abbey in Provence, France. We found the photo not in France but on Orcas Island, part of the San Juan Islands of Washington.
We were on vacation at a conference on Orcas Island. (Read more about our trip here.) Each morning, my husband and I would get up early (me grumpy, him cheery) and walk a couple of chilly miles downtown for a cup of coffee for him and a cup of tea for me. Then we’d trek back to our home for the week, the Kangaroo Inn, for a hot shower and gourmet breakfast. (We felt that the brisk walk more than justified the gourmet calories.)
Afterward, we’d head off to the conference, to learn and think and connect with others about creativity, the arts, and culture, as well as about CS Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and their friends, the Inklings.
One afternoon, during our free time, we explored the shops downtown and wandered into an art gallery. Greg Gawlowski, a photographer, happened to be in the gallery that day, so we talked with him about his work. When I saw his photo of the lavender, I’m pretty sure I stared, clutched it to my chest, and then stared some more.
What I love about this photo is the profusion of purple lavender (purple is my favorite color), the texture of the plants, and the straight rows. I love the abbey: the white and gray stone which looks almost purple in places, as though it’s reflecting the brilliant color in front of it. I also love how the shape of the circular apse contrasts with the lines of lavender, the dark window in the center, and the texture of the roof.
When I look at this photograph, the rows of lavender seem to be leading me toward the medieval abbey. Their glory, displayed right up to the wall, enhances the abbey and makes it beautiful as well. In turn, the abbey provides the perfect backdrop of muted tones to enhance the lavender.
All of that color and life and texture makes me go “oh.” The only thing missing is the fragrance. It must have smelled amazing.
This photograph reminds me of a very special trip to Orcas Island where we met kindred spirits and had fascinating discussions. It stirs both gratitude in me that such beauty exists as well as a longing for something more, something bigger.
Surely the beauty we see is only a glimpse of something even more beautiful, something that's not of this world.
The beauty around us is one piece of the evidence of God's existence. And of his willingness to give us good things. Like beauty.
Have you ever felt a longing that was stirred by beauty you saw or experienced? Is the quote by CS Lewis helpful to you in explaining that feeling? I would love to hear about your experience, too. Please leave me a comment below or on Facebook or send me an email.
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