Who Are the Missionaries of Beauty?

Bart Price: It’s the landscapers, the Missionaries of Beauty, who have engendered in me the desire to put a name to “things.”

What reflects God more –
a forest wild or nature arranged,
one who’s wild or one who’s tame?

Is not wild to order
as sanguine is to melancholic –
two sides of the same beauty?

It seems right, then, that beauty
– and truth –
can be either wild or tame

and that tamed beauty
done right
can be lovely too.

As I write this poem, I think of the manicured lawns I see on my drive to work every day, landscapes that stand in striking contrast to the untamed wildernesses I’ve seen while hiking some of America’s most remote areas.

My thoughts wander to the people who create and maintain the tamed beauty of those lawns – the landscapers of the world. Such beauty lifts my mind to the things of God: the arranged flowerbeds, ornamental grasses and complementary trees act as seeds of contemplation in my soul.

“A tree gives glory to God by being a tree,” Thomas Merton explains in New Seeds of Contemplation. “It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree.”

Perhaps this is why therapists speak of the healing power of nature.

Presently, the religious order Mother Teresa of Calcutta founded, The Missionaries of Charity, drifts into my mind. I think also of The Missionaries of the Eternal Word, The Missionaries of the Poor, The Missionaries of Mercy. But how about the Missionaries of Beauty, I wonder? Who would they be?

One might assume such a reverential title belongs only to painters or poets, or to musicians or architects. But it is also a fitting way to describe landscapers, who sweat and toil under the blazing sun to make our yards and public spaces flame with color.

What’s interesting about these Missionaries of Beauty is that most are unaware they are ministers of beauty. While some artists would go about their work with this ministerial intention, many landscapers work simply to eke out a meager living.

Not surprisingly, the beauty of their handiwork inspires me to want to know more intimately the bushes, trees and grasses they plant and maintain – to know their names so I can more fully appreciate them.

“Wouldn’t things be different if nothing was an it?” Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in her recent book Braiding Sweetgrass. “Our toddlers speak of plants and animals as if they were people, extending to them self and intention and compassion – until we teach them not to. We quickly retrain them and make them forget. When we tell them that the tree is not a who, but an it, we make that maple an object; we put a barrier between us, absolving ourselves of moral responsibility and opening the door to exploitation.”

Of course, trees are not persons, but Kimmerer is right in one sense: our cultural language can and does affect our worldview, influencing whether we see creation as sacred or simply material, whether we see a world to be respected or to be exploited. As I think about the inadequacy and dullness of generalities in contrast to the beauty of specifics landscapers have helped me to discover, I write this poem:

As of late, I have gotten into the habit of naming things,
random things –
the type of grass in my yard,
the kinds of weeds, bushes and trees growing
at the woods edge just across the street.

Perhaps it is because they are increasingly
decreasing that I am not content anymore
with just calling it all

You and I
and even Kai Hynson, too,
tend to give these
a vague look.

But this dullness of sight is

It’s the landscapers, the Missionaries of Beauty, who have engendered in me the desire to put a name to “things” – the cape plumbago, the sky pencil, the firecracker flower, the bush allamanda, the dwarf umbrella tree, the golden trumpet tree, the double knockout rose, the sweet viburnum, the Japanese blueberry, the Mexican fan palm, the sylvester palm. I could go on and on.

In getting to know more intimately the natural world ornamenting the neighborhoods and public spaces where I live, I’ve drawn closer to the supernatural. Truly, the landscapers of the world are bearers of beauty. While some toil to bring God’s truth and goodness to a fallen world, landscapers toil to bring it something of God’s beauty.


Bart Price lives in St. Augustine, Florida, with his wife, Angie. A Six Sigma Black Belt, he works in the Six Sigma department of a financial firm. He has published a poetry book entitled The Wild Woods Edge and creates and sells what he calls Photo Poems, combining his original poetry and photography on 8×10 mats. His art can be found at www.bartprice.com

[image: The Gardener, by Georges Seurat. Oil on wood. 1882-83.]

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