This may be a longer post than normal. Just FYI. Several things have been swirling around and eventually came together over the last few days…
First, a portable paradise…What do I mean with this? In our final session of my contemplative photography group, we were spending time with the poem, A Portable Paradise by Roger Robinson. Here’s the poem
And if I speak of Paradise,A Portable Paradise” from A Portable Paradise by Roger Robinson. © 2019 by Roger Robinson
then I’m speaking of my grandmother
who told me to carry it always
on my person, concealed, so
no one else would know but me.
That way they can’t steal it, she’d say.
And if life puts you under pressure,
trace its ridges in your pocket,
smell its piney scent on your handkerchief,
hum its anthem under your breath.
And if your stresses are sustained and daily,
get yourself to an empty room – be it hotel,
hostel or hovel – find a lamp
and empty your paradise onto a desk:
your white sands, green hills and fresh fish.
Shine the lamp on it like the fresh hope
of morning, and keep staring at it till you sleep.
When I first heard that poem a year or so ago, it spoke deeply to me of what I need to hold to in my life for hope no matter what the circumstances. That’s what I hear in the poem – whatever it is…have something that no one can take from you, something that would always be with you, something that you can focus on in the most difficult periods and be comforted and strengthened. Whatever it is, I feel it is ultimately about what will bring you hope no matter what.
For me, that thing is beauty. I have grown so much to be drawn to attention to beauty in the world that I cannot not see it. This past week, I saw it in the hands of a 100+ year old woman who just made the decision to enter hospice care. I saw it in the incredible amount of iris blooms we have in the front of our house. I saw it in the varied and unique sunrises that greeted each day. I saw it in my amazing wife as she has made some amazing strides on her doctoral project. I saw it in each of my kids as they have navigated a year unlike anything anyone could have imagined. I saw it in the discussions I have had in a Bible study at the church I serve as we are digging into the Psalms. I saw it in a photo taken of me a few years ago that I can see the growth and health that has come for me since that time. I saw it in the vibrant greens that surrounded me on a hike tonight. I saw it in this rock that was hiding under the edge of a bush near our local middle school.
This rock represents the reality of hope for me so vividly. When I first saw this rock, it was tucked under a bush and it was dirty and muddy and barely noticeable. I left it exactly where it was and was essentially laying down on the sidewalk taking this photo. (I am sure that some people walked by wondering, “what is that fool doing?”) But the dirtiness of it, the fact that it wasn’t out in the bright sunlight, and that the camera (because of the low light, etc) could only get the final “e” in full focus…all of it speaks of this poem and speaks of the reality of hope. Hope is forged through the trials and challenges of life. As is heard in Paul’s words in Romans 5:3b-4
…knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…
I saw this last night as well when our family watched The Shawshank Redemption. First time for our kids and I don’t even know how many times Amy and I have seen it but its been a lot. As we watched, Robinson’s poem kept coming up for me wondering what was Andy Dufresne’s portable paradise. What did he hold to in spite of the sufferings that he underwent throughout? Andy’s hope in the film was like this rock…tarnished, dirty, away from the light, but still vibrant and alive even if, at times, he could only see or feel part of it.
I love his words about hope towards the end of the film…Writing to his friend Red, who had told him previously that “hope was a dangerous thing and that hope can drive a man insane”, he shared the following…
Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.
And I love the fact that the last two words in the movie are simply
My portable paradise is beauty – that which I have witnessed in the past and that which I continue to look for. And it is in beauty that I find hope.
May this photo bring you some measure of hope. No matter what you are going through right now, even if your “hope stone” or your “portable paradise” is a bit tarnished, muddy, dirty, hard to see, hard to get at…may you continue to hold to hope…may you continue to choose to hope…