Well hello friends, I think this month’s metaphorical Beagle bag is being carried to you on the persistent British winds of May, I don’t think I remember a May being quite so blustery for so long! Perhaps we, like Mellersh Wilkins in The Enchanted April, are simply in need of ‘a thorough airing’, more on that shortly. The Beagle Monthly is all about the creation and curation of beauty. Beauty, what is its purpose, can we assign purpose beyond aesthetics? I never used to give it much thought, if something caught my eye or brought me into a warm state it was usually only fleeting and somehow seemed detached from present realities. I was like Moses glimpsing a bush aflame but unlike Moses, rather than turning aside to draw closer in curiosity I walked by, unable to discern an invitation to wonder. In the drawing close Moses found conversation with God, he removed his earth bound shoes making the very dust holy. How often I have resented the dust, the dryness of life found in a crying baby, unending chores, work which pays the bills. I wasn’t taught to listen for the voice of God in such things, to see his fingerprints, to admire his profile. But I am learning. And why am I learning? Because I firmly believe and it’s been my experience as Sarah Clarkson says that, “Beauty is our defiance against the darkness”. Here in this little community, we are forming an army who day by day, ordinary moment by moment are holding out and onto light, beauty, goodness and truth as our weapons. Not because we are Pollyanna with eternal optimism, but because most typically we are a broken people with wounds, scars, heartaches and struggles. We need the light to stave off the encroaching darkness, we need beauty to remind us that God is with us in this place of shadows.
Things are getting back to a semblance of normal here with restaurants, cinemas and gyms all opening up. We’re now able to meet outside with up to 30 people from other households so long as we’re outside. Last week we’d planned for our new Bible study group to meet in a friend’s garden courtyard but the indecisive weather wasn’t aware of our plans, the heavens opened, closed, opened, closed, in typical English style. So, necessity being the mother of invention, we had the bright idea to park ourselves the garage (pun intended!). Glamorous not, but it was the perfect indoor-outdoor solution. We quickly dried soggy chair cushions in the drier, lit candles, placed flowers in vases, laid out the cookies and cake, brought fresh pots of tea and coffee with a tray of teacups and made this functional storage area a sanctuary of fun and delight. If beauty was a picture this was it.
My daughter and I have just finished a read through of The Enchanted April. Zoe has made it an annual tradition and I, having seen the film many times, enjoyed my first read through this year. After a busy week of comings and goings we relished our own little book club last Saturday, sitting in a cafe yes actually sitting inside! On soft cushioned chairs with ambient music playing, the fragrance of roasted beans and toasted breads, embraced in the happy chatter of others, we delighted in every good thing indeed. The Enchanted April is a beautiful chronicle taking the reader on a literal and spiritual journey which is in itself a thorough airing for the dusty soul. Four women, strangers, each in need of recalibration, some more aware of the need than others. An Italian castle, sunshine and wisteria, unfaithful husbands, tiresome suitors, those sorrowed by loss, it’s a tale of how place and beauty hold transformative powers to reach even the most desperate heart.
“In the warmth and light of what she was looking at, of what to her was a manifestation, an entirely new side, of God…Mrs. Wilkins said she was sure no one, however old and tough, could resist the effects of perfect beauty.” In the quote above, Lottie, one of the four women, is taking in the Italian landscape, ‘wisteria and sunshine, tumbling over itself in its excess of life, scarlet geraniums, nasturtiums in great heaps, brilliant burning marigolds, fig trees, peach trees, cherry trees, grass thick with daisies and dandelions, a crowd of loveliness, a happy jumble.’ In this extravagance of beauty heaven shows itself, captivating her soul and imagination. The kingdom of God is right under her nose. The effect is arresting and immediate. ‘Up to now she had had to take what beauty she could as she went along, snatching at little bits of it when she came across it, - a patch of daisies on a fine day in Hampstead Heath, a flash of sunset between two chimney pots. She had never been in definitely, completely beautiful places.’ Possibly we only experience this baptism of beauty when we go away on holiday? For our family that’s Devon, ‘Devon Heaven’ as we call it. I remember a time we arrived mid-hurricane, yet unperturbed we set straight out on a walk, “How bracing and invigorating!”, we cried to each other laughing. Devon transforms us into Marianne and Margaret in Sense & Sensibility, ‘And when they caught in their faces the animating gales of an high south-westerly wind, they pitied the fears which had prevented their mother and Elinor from sharing such delightful sensations. “Is there a felicity in the world,” said Marianne, “Superior to this? Margaret, we will walk here at least two hours.” Margaret agreed, and they pursued their way against the wind, resisting it with laughing.’ How I long and strive to resist the storms with laughter. Maybe that’s too much of a stretch but I do feel if beauty is cultivated and appreciated it’s possible to feel loved through all trials. What could make for dampened spirits or complaint back home was here an invitation to adventure, ‘it was cloudy in Italy, which surprised them. They had expected brilliant sunshine. But never mind: it was Italy, and the very clouds looked fat.’ Possibly the familiarity of home, the monotony of life’s demands crowd in and push aside any resident beauty we might otherwise be able to see should we have a tourist’s eye? And what does that mean to have a tourist’s eye? It is the eye of wonder. It’s a posture of rest not rush. Drinking in, taking in the details, giving your soul time to glimpse and draw closer in curiosity. Have you ever had to hurry through a museum, city or attraction? It’s a desperate feeling. To be thirsty and spy water yet not be able to drink. But when we do drink, when we perceive the reflections of the Creator in the created we are changed, crowned with a little kiss of heaven. Every time we’d arrive home from Devon my heart would long to hold onto that tourist feeling. I’d journal and ask myself how could I bring that sense of time and space to our everyday in order to be able to be present and see the beauty of the day? It has taken time and is a constant pursuit but little by little, the moments, the pearls of great price, they begin to string together, until possibly one day they’ll make a necklace of grace and wisdom which will adorn our life. Create those moments, curate a beautiful life. Another character, Lady Caroline Dester - beautiful, aristocratic, defensive and withdrawn Caroline, I feel she sees the secret power of beauty rightly as it eventually ‘breaks through all one’s chinks’ and she finally surrenders to its spell, “Beauty made you love, and love made you beautiful,” and as Lottie observes ‘not in a vicious but a highly virtuous circle.’ Yes, there is purpose in beauty, beauty makes us love. All around us are banners of beauty as Elizabeth Goudge called them, many signposts crying, “Come this way!”, (The Castle On The Hill). Friends, shall we turn aside now and wonder at some beautiful still life?
A Still Life
Flakes of Fire
Deaths of Flowers
I would if I could choose Age and die outwards as a tulip does; Not as this iris drawing in, in-coiling Its complex strange taut inflorescence, willing Itself a bud again - though all achieved is No more than a clenched sadness, The tears of gum not flowing. I would choose the tulip’s reckless way of going; Whose petals answer light, altering by fractions From closed to wide, from one through many perfections, Til wrecked, flamboyant, strayed beyond recall, Like flakes of fire they piecemeal fall. Edith Joy Scovell
Working with, and attempting to grow flowers myself, I appreciate the observances she makes close up. Here she contemplates death with the emphasis on how we spend our closing years by comparing the clenched inward-turning of the careful iris to the wide outward stretching tulip and its reckless way of going. Rather than shrink and inwardly coil as the iris we see the tulip’s greater opening, answering light as if having the question put to it, ‘How will you choose to go?’, prompting not a drawing back in fear but a bolder gesture to throw every last ounce at it. And it’s not a going out with a bang — one grand motion, a solo event accompanied by pyrotechnics, but rather an unfolding narrative, act by act, daily offerings, new facets shown, piece by piece until all has been offered and left on the table.
I grew these particular parrot tulips and my, don’t they take the breath away! I marvel at their many flared skirts, the fingertips which rim each hemline motioning them to and fro in an extravagant display, each stem dancing with abandon. Flakes of fire. Take a moment, study the curves, colours, light and shadow, the lean and tilt. I particularly enjoy darkly lit photography (low-key) as it allows the subject to really pop. Darkness provides the perfect backdrop which makes the lit subject more obvious.
Reading: I’m on the launch team for Sarah Clarkson’s new book due 12th July in the UK (baby no.3 will have arrived by then!). Titled This Beautiful Truth: How God’s Goodness Breaks Into Our Darkness and boy are the goodness of her words breaking through in unexpected ways upon my heart. I will share a lot next month from this, believe the hype if you see any, it really is that good. “All that’s required of us refugees of the broken cosmos is a willingness to come home. To be made welcome by God and to let our belonging transform not only the inward rooms of our hearts but also the outer rooms of our lives, so that where we are we dwell in heaven, though we yet live in the broken earth—our lives a refuge for the sorrowing in hungry search for love.” - Sarah Clarkson Life of The Beloved, Henri Nouwen. Re-reading: The Castle on The Hill, Elizabeth Goudge. Listening to: My monthly collection can be found here. * Of note is Together/Your Hand in Mine, this has been a sweet piece to enjoy this month. * Stained Glass has been listed before but in light of this month’s theme it’s taken on fresh relevance. The lyrics are simple, beautiful, profound. * A friend painted me a beautiful watercolour last month having been inspired by April’s Beagle still life. I didn’t recognise the lyrics but found they are a lovely old hymn, This Is My Father’s World sung beautifully here by Fernando Ortega. I’ll post a picture of the artwork and my little feathered muse, isn’t it fun that also her postcard perfectly matched my jug. * My creative anthem. Art: As much as social media can be a curse it’s also a great blessing, if it wasn’t for TikTok I would never have discovered artist Krystal Festerly. Krystal’s work is simply stunning but behind that she has a personal story of such heartbreak. You will be inspired and reminded that out of sorrow beauty can grow. I love strong women! You can follow Krystal on IG to enjoy wonderful clips of her work, it’s mesmerising. Watching: I was in two minds about this recommendation because in some ways it doesn’t appear ‘beautiful’. There are a couple of harrowing scenes if you’re sensitive to blood or Victorian methods of treating mental health/PTSD but The Professor And The Madman starring Mel Gibson and Sean Penn is a powerful, and I think beautiful, biographical drama. Based on the 1998 book The Surgeon of Crowthorne (yet to read). Learn about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary and the two men who spearheaded its beginnings. I’m not going to say anything other than this is a truly stunning performance by two (three including Jennifer Ehle) of the finest actors and a story you’ll not easily forget. I wanted to pause and meditate on the dialogue often. Sometimes brutal, but beautifully redemptive, if you have Amazon Prime you can view it for free. “For every word in action becomes beautiful in the light of its own meaning”. “All great and beautiful work has come, of first gazing without shrinking into the darkness”. * If you'd prefer something 100% feel-good then The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is my other pick. I've seen this more times than I can count. Beautiful cinematography, redemptive, funny, superbly acted (Sean Penn again funnily enough), soundtrack, scenery and the story itself, this is a self-soothing rewatch every time. Ben Stiller plays a super-introverted film developer working for the now discontinued LIFE magazine. In love and unable to show it we follow as circumstances conspire to push him out of his comfort zones. Here's a great quote from the film which encapsulates the magazine's ethos;
"LIFE: To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life." The original wording from the magazine's launch in 1936 was this;
THE PURPOSE: To see life; to see the world; to eyewitness great events; to watch the faces of the poor and the gestures of the proud; to see strange things – machines, armies, multitudes, shadows in the jungle and on the moon; to see our work – our paintings, towers and discoveries; to see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to: the women that men love and many children; to see and to take pleasure in seeing; to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed; Thus to see, and to be shown, is now the will and new expectancy of half of humankind. To see, and to show, is the mission now undertaken by a new kind of publication, THE SHOW-BOOK OF THE WORLD, hereinafter described…
The dialogue towards the end between Ben Stiller and Sean Penn's characters is beautiful, I think you'll love it!
Podcast: I’ve recently discovered Timothy Willard on IG and his wife also, Christine. Timothy hosts a podcast called The Saturday Stoke sharing all things good, beautiful and true, he speaks my language. Click the podcast name for a link to an episode I just listened to and from which the below excerpt is taken. “When the apostle Paul stood before the Stoics at the Areopagus he invited the philosophers to see the billions upon billions of joys. For the seeker, the one groping for God he says, “These joys reveal the invisible qualities of His eternal power and divinity and yet, the beauty of natural wonder is not sufficient for spiritual salvation. Beauty, unconnected to the Divine leads humans into pagan idolatry. For the disciple of Jesus, the one groping for deeper intimacy with God, the revelation of these joys, of God’s power and divine nature, remind of His unlimited grace and care. But even more than that, they remind one of the lover who leaves flowers on his beloved’s doorstep. The flowers signal his loyalty and tenderness but they also impart something of his heart concerning his beloved. The flowers say in essence, ‘You remind me of this bouquet; full of life, bursting with colour, alive with fragrance, a bounty snatched from the mountains. The bouquet is a symbol of love.’”
And now I say farewell, Zoe is waiting at a local cafe for me for our weekly time together over good coffee and something sweet. I enjoyed a delightful walk across three villages with my hubby and Alba earlier today, we sat with coffees outside and people-watched before catching the bus home (see last image). I hear the lawnmower going, I’m wearing a t-shirt and no cardigan, sure signs the weather is improving. We struggle with issues just as you mostly likely do; mental health, financial challenges, relationships, church, and life is all getting busy again, maybe you are anxious? Friends, I hope you can feel a kiss of heaven today, feel loved, love more freely. Most of all, know that God is with you in every detail. May yours today be the thought of an ever-shining sun behind the storm clouds, the constancy of light in shadows. May you delight in a smile, a hug, a soft touch, tender eyes and feel the kiss of heaven. May you feel the breeze if on your knees, a wind that whispers you are not alone. As you pour out in love to your loved ones may the comfort of Christ’s love poured out carry you past your own limits, when you can’t give any more. May you go on like the tulip, reaching for and answering light, flakes of fire, dancing, living with abandon to beauty and the love it provokes. Should it rain and dampen all your plans, may you find beauty, shelter and provision in the most unlikely of places. As you seek to find beauty, to turn aside and awaken wonder, I pray the pathways where your feet fall transform it into holy ground and that there, you'll see the hand of God. With love, Jacqui X
Snaps from home…
The Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park, incredible Rhododendrons in May.
Bluebells and Alba in our local woodland.
Delicious Oxford market vegetables.
A local church.
I found a Goosberry bu