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The Gates of Beauty
By Richard S. Barnett

"Therefore, give the exiles this message from the Sovereign LORD: Although I have scattered you in the countries of the world, I will be a sanctuary to you during your time in exile." (Ezekiel 11:16 NIV)

Our worship last Sunday included an old hymn that was new to me, "Open Now Thy Gates of Beauty." It ends with the words, "May I undisturbed draw near Thee/ while Thou dost Thy people feed./ Here of life the fountain flows,/ Here is balm for all our woes." [1]

During the pause that followed I heard a mockingbird singing outside from his perch overlooking the patch of bluebonnets in the church garden: the gates of beauty stood wide open.

That Sabbath moment recalled memories of how God opens the gates of beauty wherever I go. Moreover, they always seem to open widest in the spring, the innocent season that follows winter.

In Korea early in 1953, I saw wild azaleas in flower covering the ravaged mountains while cuckoos sang in the distance. I found lilies of the valley blooming in a ravine on a sheltered slope and house martins nesting in an ammunition bunker right behind the front line. These sights brought to mind Psalm 84 and the nearness of His altar. He has opened the gates of beauty in more other places than I can count.

Our church, Wimberley Presbyterian Church, sits at the foot of a hill known as "Old Baldy." Its owners, Wimberley’s Trinity Chapel, have named it "Prayer Mountain" and built steps to the summit. It rises barely 150 feet above the ridge it dominates, and its elevation reaches just short of 1200 feet. I love the birds of Prayer Mountain, the bright-eyed wildflowers that grace its limestone slopes in spring, and the butterflies that patrol its flat hilltop.

As a Christian, I appreciate the spiritual sanctuary the hill provides. It becomes a gate of beauty that takes me into God’s presence. It’s not that God is less close to us in other places and moments, but our hearts are farther from Him in the busy worlds of our own making where we feel less dependence on the natural world and God.

There’s much to be said for entering the gates of beauty wherever or whenever we find them. God opens them for our delight, especially after seasons of darkness and discontent. With that delight He provides the springtime we need to deal with the questions and problems of life. On a hilltop, He gives us perspective and direction for life on the plains. He gives us what we need to grow in faith and capacity to serve wherever loneliness and suffering breed despair.

Just as God opens the gates of beauty after a bitter night or a time of distress, He opens our eyes to wonderful things in the Bible that change our lives, free our hearts, and broaden our understanding. We find new words to store in our hearts and live by when clouds return after a stormy night.

Surely Ezekiel would agree that the gates of beauty are the gates of God’s sanctuary. You will always find those gates open. May you find that they lead to fresh seasons of blessing in growth and His service.

* * *

[1] "Open Now Thy Gates of Beauty," by Benjamin Schnolk, 1732, to the tune of Unser Herrscher by Joachim Neander, 1680.

* * *

By Richard S. Barnett

Why let winter days daunt us:
Barren branches and grey days,
Blasts of ice that quench the sun,
Bringing bleak thoughts to mind—-
Where have all our days gone,
Our hopes, our dreams, our years?
Have they all gone to waste
Like what man has made of man?

Look for the spring God gives us,
Full of flowers and bright days,
When we delight in the sun
That brings glad thoughts to mind--
Our God blesses each day,
Lived in the way of faith,
Its harvest filled with praise
For what God has done for man.

* William Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost

Retired from petroleum exploration and teaching Earth Science at Houston Community College, Richard Barnett writes from Wimberley, Texas, where bluebonnets and other wildflowers are coming into bloom and painting the hills of Central Texas. Alleen and Richard Barnett attend Wimberley Presbyterian Church. They have two grown daughters and two grandsons.
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