He has made everything beautiful in its time.
The school where I teach is situated on a busy main road in an inner-city area of Birmingham, England’s second-largest city. It’s a place no one would describe as picturesque. Harsh on the eyes, it’s characterised by crumbling concrete held together by grit and dirt. Rows upon rows of terraced houses too small for the number of their inhabitants are packed together along streets filled with potholes and detritus from overflowing bins that never seem to get emptied. A strange mixture of chaos, smog and despair permeates the atmosphere as families struggle to thrive in this bleak, urban landscape.
On one side of the school lies the local swimming pool. The side of that building was the view from my classroom for many years: a high, blank wall. There was no horizon to look towards, no sight of green or blue anywhere.
This year, though, my classroom is on the other side of the building, meaning I get a view of the local park. I am unsentimental about this: I know that broken glass has to be swept from the playground each morning. I know that children cannot play near the stream at the bottom because of the danger from broken needles. But I can’t help feeling drawn towards awe and wonder as I look out of the windows. My soul sings every time I snatch a glimpse of the strong, established trees that flourish and blossom every spring and flame out with glory each autumn.
I am not sentimental about what happens inside the school, either. There are stressful days, misbehaving children, lack of resources, and many problems I cannot fix. But time and time again, I am called back to wonder here, too. I am captured by my children’s delight as they grow and learn, make each other laugh and demonstrate kindness and compassion. I am inspired by the dedication and resilience of a staff team who give their all to love these small people, helping to shape their characters as well as their minds. I am moved by the gratitude and support of parents who love their children and want only the best for them.
I think about how this is the place I have been called to cultivate. This physical place, this emotional and spiritual place, is where I have been called to dig and to sow, to plant and to weed. This is the place I have been called to nurture and to nourish, to serve and to love. It’s not glamorous but it is full of beauty.
I have often thought that beauty is to the soul what oxygen is to the lungs.
Without it, something vital in us suffocates and eventually dies. Beauty inspires us to awe and gratitude. It grounds us in the present moment and declares that not all is lost. Beauty calls us back to hope again, reminds us we’re part of a bigger story and is a sure and certain sign that we are loved. Sometimes beauty is easy to find and sometimes we have to search it out. But once we start to look, we find beauty is everywhere—in flowers and trees, in bird song and children’s laughter, in a sweet friendship or an expertly crafted mug. We just need eyes to see and ears to hear.
As I left school last week, I happened to glance upwards. Above the spiked railings and high, schoolyard gates, the sky had been painted in the most delicious shades of pink. I stood for a moment and breathed it in, feeling my soul revive and remember its own worth. And right there in the midst of the concrete and the grime and the day’s wear and tear, I couldn’t help but bow in worship and in reverence once again before the Creator of it all.
The featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and used with her gracious permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Abby King is a teacher, writer, avid reader and tea-drinker. In the classroom, she loves helping shape little minds, and is passionate about introducing children to great books. When she’s not teaching, Abby spends her time shaping words on the page, writing towards hope in the midst of hard things. Although she finds nature beautiful and inspiring, Abby is most definitely a city girl and makes her home in Birmingham, England. Creative and curious, Abby is a life-long learner who holds degrees in English and Theology, alongside gaining her teaching qualification from the University of Cambridge. In her spare moments, Abby plays flute, piano and cello and spends time with her nephews and nieces, whom she adores.