Category Archives: Beauty Around the World

Hidden Treasury of Religious Art at Scrovegni Chapel…Lost in Padua

The baby was due Wednesday, and Michael predicted that it might be a photo finish between Baby Cakes and me as to who would arrive first. We had a “Plan B” in place while I was in transit from America just in case the baby came and Michael couldn’t meet me at Venice’s Marco Polo Airport. However, Mike was there smiling when I emerged from the baggage claim area. That was Friday.  By Saturday, Grace was more ready than ever to deliver, but Baby was unwilling to participate in a premiere showing, so Michael valiantly offered to take care of their four kids so Grace and I could visit the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, about a 40-minute drive from home. “Intrepid” is perhaps a modest understatement of Grace’s enthusiasm for life, and she’d really been wanting to visit this acclaimed masterpiece of Western Art before they left Italy, so we decided to take our (a?) big chance and go. Having GPS is one of the world’s finest exploration conveniences…when it works. The first time Alan and I visited Venice (about fifteen years ago), our GPS kept telling us to exit off the highway where there was no exit (all new construction), and we had a terrible time finding our way to our hotel. That particular terror was in the back of my mind when Michael warned us that the GPS wouldn’t really bring us to the right spot. He said we’d have to cross the Brenta River, so that we did. Then, our GPS said we were just three minutes from the chapel, but it didn’t seem able to direct us further, so we found a parking space (which is definitely a driver’s pot of gold  in this area of Padua) and began to walk. Many Italians know a little English, but few with enough facility to actually give adequate directions, and we quickly became completely disoriented on the twisty streets. I should have thought to take photos on my camera every time we turned a corner, but I didn’t. For future reference, if you’re traveling and unsure of where you’re going, take photos, and record where you’ve parked your car on your phone’s GPS if you have a smart phone. This works great for recording trail maps, too!At one point, we saw a young, professional-looking woman and approached her, thinking at last we’d get help. She’d never even heard of the Scrovegni Chapel (aka Cappella degli Scrovegni in Italian) and wondered if it might be downtown. After bumbling about like the blind leading the blind for half an hour, we finally found the chapel, which is part of the “Museo Civico of Padua.” Whew! The Scrovegni Chapel is filled with frescoes painted by Giotto in 1305 and is the forerunner to the exquisite works that Michelangelo painted two centuries later in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. Although it’s virtually unknown relative to the world-famous Sistine Chapel, people do come from all over the world to visit, and we were give a twenty-minute slot with a small group in a carefully temperature and humidity-controlled environment to view the life of Christ as depicted in this chapel. (If you’re going to visit, reservations ahead are almost mandatory! We were late, but they graciously allowed us in with the next group. Thank you, Italy!)One of the most famous scenes is Joseph kissing Mary at their wedding. I was told that this is the “first kiss” ever depicted in Western Art (perhaps the world?).The Museo Civico of Padua is filled with literally thousands of pieces of artwork.                       They even have their own Pieta, by Antonio Bonazza.Grace and I spent hours marveling at all the gorgeous religious art, and it made us all the more amazed that so many people within a few blocks of this world-class treasury seemed to have no knowledge of its existence. How could that be? Did we fail to ask the right questions? Use the right words? It reminded me of my son Jonathan trying to find an evangelical church in Germany. He lacked the vocabulary to explain what he was looking for and so stumbled around for a long time before he found a very vibrant congregation of spiritually-minded believers.                 (Thankfully, he did, because that’s where he met his wife!) At any rate, we spent a glorious day standing in reverential awe of God as we experienced this beautiful chapel/museum hidden away in the heart of Italy.I fear that all too often Americans (myself included) fail to help others find their way to Christ. It’s easy to be like those busy Italians who lived and worked outside the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel but were oblivious to its existence. They never visited, had no clue what was inside, and couldn’t tell anyone how to get there…yet people from all over the world are seeking.  Can we open our eyes to the gospel message, believe it, receive it, and share it with others? For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7).

(P.S.—The end of this story will have to be told next time. Do you think we found our way back to the car? Before Grace went into labor?  Tune in next week… 🙂  )

Photos of Some Awe-inspiring Flight Paths

Flying is one of the most exhilarating experiences on earth, perhaps because it’s something we all imagine from childhood but can’t actually accomplish on our own. Or, as Amelia Earhart explained: “The lure of flying is the lure of beauty.” This summer, I flew from Grand Rapids to Venice via Atlanta, Georgia,  up the eastern seaboard of America past Cape Cod just as the sun was setting… then across a cloud-blanketed Atlantic Ocean for an overnight voyage to Ireland. The sun rose bright and clear above a snowy sea of clouds covering Europe, so I couldn’t see much again until we got close to Venice. What a fascinating world of water ways and colors! I don’t think we have anything quite like Venice in America.  That trip was to help my son Mike’s family during the birth of a new baby boy.  Alan came for just one day to meet the baby,  and then we were off before sunrise for a flight across the Alps  and on to Amsterdam for a three-week cruise of lands around the North Sea.  I have lots of cruise stories to share over the coming weeks
(like the night we attended the Edinburgh Military Tattoo), because this adventure was the longest and one of the most relaxing ever. However, today I mostly want to share photos from the flights,  because I think flying is one of the most thrilling rides on earth, and if you haven’t flown across America or the Atlantic,  I thought you might enjoy seeing some aerial views.  So, after our wonderful cruise of the North Sea, including Scotland, Iceland, the Norwegians fjords, and The Netherlands, we flew from Amsterdam back home, following a northern route that passed above the lower tip of Greenland, across northern Canada,  and back to home, sweet home along the Grand River…
known as Grand Rapids to most, but lovingly nicknamed  “Green Rabbits” by our sixth-born son when he was four.
(There were green rabbits on our ship, too!)  I hope you enjoyed this round trip in a minute!

Since returning home, I’ve been thinking about something John Muir, the American naturalist wrote: “When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.” Indeed, I think that’s true! The only thing more beautiful to me than flying over the earth will be that last great flight to heaven! Are you ready to fly away? I am!

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 9:10).

And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” (Revelation 14:6-7).

 

Planet Earth and Planet Earth II

I suppose everybody on earth but me has seen the incredible nature documentary series, Planet Earth II, produced by BBC in 2016 as their first ultra-high-definition T.V. series, narrated by the inimitable Sir David Attenborough, and enhanced with theme music composed by Hans Zimmer.                          (Could it get any better than that combination?!) There are six episodes, including studies of the wildlife on islands, mountains, jungles, deserts, grasslands, and (believe it or not) wildlife in our cities. Our son Joel saw the documentary on “Cities” at a friend’s house and came home with such enthusiasm that we immediately discovered the series is available on Netflix (and probably other online sources).The photography is absolutely breathtaking, and they used innovative techniques, such as setting up to 25 “camera traps” in the remote mountains of India to trigger photographs of the elusive snow leopards.                               Every episode was mesmerizing and marvelous!                               What an amazing world God has created for us! If you watch all six episodes and are wishing for more, Planet Earth II is actually a sequel to Planet Earth, an 11-episode natural history documentary published by BBC in 2006 that was so popular it was broadcast in over 130 countries in 15 months!  The original series took five years to film and was the most expensive nature documentary series BBC had ever produced up to that time.                        It won many awards, including four Emmy Awards. Although the original Planet Earth series definitely showcases animals in each environment, I think the earlier series highlights the geographical marvels  of our world even more than the wildlife. The beauty of our earth blows my mind! “Our planet is still full of wonders…It’s not just the future of the whale that today lies in our hands: it’s the survival of the natural world in all parts of the living planet. We can now destroy or we can cherish. The choice is ours” (David Attenborough).  I believe God wants us to cherish His creation, tend it, and take care of it!

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28).

And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (Genesis 2:15).

 

Who Needs to Travel the World? Six Reasons Why I Love Meijer Gardens

When our family or friends come to Michigan, there are a few places I always recommend, but in Grand Rapids my favorite place to visit is—without a doubt— Meijer Garden. So, for those of you who may be looking for something very special to do in Michigan this summer, consider visiting Meijer Garden. Why? #1. The flowers are always spectacular! No need to travel to Holland to see tulips, or to Giverny near Paris to find a wistful arbor of wisteria. #2. The Japanese Gardens are stunning.Meticulously designed and artful in every detail. Restful and serene.  Filled with quiet spots to chat or sit and be creative! And, if you want a little taste of cherry blossoms in the spring,
there’s no need to visit Washington D.C. or Asia anymore!  #3. Lena Meijer’s Tropical Conservatory is like a breath of warm air.  Even when it’s snowy outside, there’s a world of warmth and beauty within. #4. Butterflies bloom during the barrenness of late winter
through early spring,
so you don’t have to go to Central America for a taste of the tropics!  #5. The Sculpture Park has become an international destination! With more than 200 sculptures in their permanent collection, you no longer have to go to Europe to see the work of famous sculptors! #6. The Lena Meijer Children’s Garden is a total delight!  Kids can get soaked…but you don’t have to! Or, they can have tea parties  while you rest in the shade and enjoy catching  up with each other. You don’t have to go to the Caribbean to take your kids sailing,  and if the boat capsizes, it’s no big deal!Also, no need to go to Africa to let your kids feel like big time explorers!

I was going to list ten reasons, but this post is already too long, so I’ll try to finish the others later this week. Meanwhile, happy planning as you think about your summer. Of course, while I’m promoting Michigan, three of my sons are vacationing in Italy together…but what can I say?  The other three and my daughter’s family are visiting us here in Michigan, so it’s all good!  As Robert Louis Stevenson would say, “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness,
and shall sing of thy righteousness
”  (Psalm 145:7).

Rise Up, My Love (293): Paradise Lost and Found

Song of Solomon 8:13 “Thou that dwellest in the gardens…” How do we live in a spiritual paradise in a world of paradise lost? The secret is in learning to dwell in the sanctuary God has created within our hearts! He makes us his “garden enclosed” (Song 4:12). As we surrender to his care and yield to his chastening, he plows and plants, waters and weeds, prunes…and prizes his garden. The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, and so it is that deep within the individual believer the gardens of the king are developed.   He creates his paradise where it cannot be scorched by the sun or devastated by disaster. On the day I first wrote this, Hurricane Frances, a tropical storm as large as the state of Texas, was pounding parts Florida with one inch of rain per hour, and Hurricane “Ivan the Terrible” was coming on its heels as a second incredible category four monster. Many of Florida’s paradisal gardens could have been destroyed in a day…but not God’s gardens. His paradisal gardens, blooming in our spirits, are warmed by son-shine and watered by the wellspring of eternal life.  The Holy Spirit, the king’s master gardener, readies our hearts for communion with him, so that the king may say, “I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse,” and we may say, “My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.” “Thou that dwellest in the gardens…” Oh, beloved, what an amazing privilege to be known to our Lord as the one who dwells in the gardens. What a challenge!  If you feel like you are in the desert, know that this is not God’s intention. He desires that we be dwelling in the gardens that he has created for us. “Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:8). “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). God is near to us right now. Are you his? Are you dwelling in his gardens? If you are, then why not stop and thank him for his amazing grace and love!  On the other hand, if you have never given him your heart, please surrender to him this very minute and let him create a paradise found within you! If you became a Christian earlier but have since quenched the Spirit so the living water cannot flow and your garden seems withered away to nothing, or if you’ve barred the door of your heart so the master gardener cannot work, and your garden has turned into a jungle of tangled weeds, then come back! Stop running. Surrender to God and let him begin his work anew. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, NIV).

Tips for Climbing Diamond Head…and One Strange Sign

I’ve read that Oahu’s Diamond Head is the world’s most climbed and photographed extinct volcano.  This iconic landmark of Hawaiian splendor lures over a million tourists to climb up its verdant crown each year, and although we’ve been to Hawaii many times (mostly for conferences, babies and graduations), we never had the leisure to climb Diamond Head until this last trip.  The forecast was for rain, but our mantra is “prepare for the worst and hope for the best” when it comes to weather. Frankly, I can’t remember any time we’ve been disappointed for forging ahead (particularly since most of the time it’s a do-now-or-forever-miss-your-chance sort of situation), so we went anyway. We were rewarded with a cool morning trek and only misty rain from time to time. Although I wouldn’t recommend trying to climb in a thunderstorm, I was pleased to note that there are sturdy guard rails along most of the difficult parts, and the paved path is as artfully rugged as any mountain trail, forcing you to watch your step or sprain your ankle at all times while still providing quite a manageable, fairly skid-proof walking surface.  I saw a few strollers hiding in the bushes awaiting the return of their owners, and very few small children. Two of our sons carried their kids up on their backs about six years ago, but that’s not a particularly easy way to do it either, since my cell phone recorded our ascent as 36 flights of stairs, 82 of which are steep and narrow.  Furthermore, there weren’t too many grey-haired folks among the crowds, and those who were, were pretty trim.  Finally: When you climb up through the last tunnel and see a sign that looks like this, go left!  Both routes take you to the top, but the trail to the right is extremely steep and narrow, so you slow down anybody coming up behind you who thinks they need to be running. Those steep stairs are much easier to handle on your descent! The trail to the left is open and ever upward but lovely, with areas where you can rest and enjoy the panoramic views (or Facetime with you son, as we did with ours!)  The entire trail is crowded, particularly at the top, but the views make up for the traffic jams!   To the south and west you overlook the lush crater and dazzle of Honolulu,  and to the east and north you’re met with soothing vistas of the Pacific Ocean’s turquoise waters and the Diamond Head Lighthouse far below.  There are several methods for tourists to get to the base of the mountain besides walking: Taxi, rental car, trolley, or bus. For $5.50, you can get a day pass for the entire island’s public bus system, which is an amazing deal!  There is a bus stop right at the base of Diamond Head Monument, and it’s a bit of a climb up to the toll booth (just $1 per person), but just past this entrance there are restrooms, drinking fountains, and options for refreshments. The wind was so strong that my wide-brimmed hat kept taking flight, so Alan bought me a baseball cap (which I will always cherish!)  There are no restroom facilities at the top, so take advantage of what they provide at this way station, and think about saving your water for drinking on your descent!  We also stopped for some passion fruit juice and a rainbow shaved ice upon our return, which revived us until we could make our way to the South Side Grill                                                 for an amazing (and cheap!)  lunch of Ono fish’n’chips. (We also took advantage of our day bus pass by ending at the Leonard Street Bakery’s for some of their famous malasadas for dessert.) All in all, it was a perfect day with only unexpected sight: A blue stop sign. Truly! I have never seen a blue stop sign in my entire life…not even in Disney World. Have you? However, after the surprise of seeing a bright blue stop sign, it occurred to me that it really doesn’t matter what color a sign is. It was the normal size and shape, and bore the same message: STOP. I had to think twice about whether or not it was real, but it was at a juncture where it would be totally appropriate to stop.  Moral of my meditation? We can be taken off guard by a warning that doesn’t fit our normal expectations, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real. Red or blue, “Stop” means “Stop!” If I (or you) have come face to face with a surprising warning, let’s not disregard it just because there’s something different about it (maybe an unusual source or given by someone whom we don’t automatically believe). If we should stop, let’s stop. On Diamond Head or our own back yard!The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it” (Proverbs 27:12, ESV).

The righteous shall see it, and rejoice: and all iniquity shall stop her mouth. Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the Lord” (Psalm 107:42-43).

 

The World Aswirl

Have you been working on any poems for National Poetry Month? I’ve been agog with all the beauty swirling in the late April snows around Tanglewood Cottage, so I wanted to share a few of my favorite photos that inspired haiku:

“Still Beautiful”  Cherry blossoms bloom,  But not here in Michigan.  Here snowflakes blossom!

 

“Artist” Great artists abound.  But in all the world I know   There is none like God.

 

“All Paupers Are Princes”   Snows melt in the sun.  The world gleams with jewels.  Beauty is treasure.

Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?” (Job 38:22)

(P.S.—The photo of the cherry blossoms was taken by Elizabeth K. in Washington D.C.; they aren’t blooming at my house yet!)