Tuesday, June 11, 2013

When Monotony Shimmers

I recently heard about a book called A World in One Cubic Foot: Portraits of Biodiversity in which photographer, David Liittschwager, placed a green metal cube measuring one foot by one foot by one foot in various ecosystems around the world and for 24 hours observed and measured the life that passed through the cubic space.

Imagine. Walking into your backyard, choosing a random cubic foot of space and staring.

a world in one cubic foot, central park, new york

Perhaps your mind is being inundated with cliches--images of drying paint, simmering pots, growing grass and the like. Staring at such a small space for 24 hours? How excruciatingly boring!

Or is it?

You observe the meandering, yet purposeful path of a scavenging ant. A robin hops into your space and locates a worm burrowed in the ground (which is technically outside your designated area), but pulls it up into your cube of awareness. You take note of a discarded fall leaf, following the wind's guidance to an unknown resting place where it shall return to the soil that bore it.

The foreword of the book boasts:
"After encountering this book, you will never look at the tiniest sliver of your own backyard or neighborhood park the same way; instead, you will be stunned by the unexpected variety of species found in an area so small."
I believe it, for I am learning the unshakable beauty found in the tiniest of gifts; the joy of being attentive to every disturbance, each movement a sign of life and a reminder that the Creator never ceases to create.

The glory of the unimpressive requires something of the observer that the vistas of the Grand Canyon do not.


For it is only in the act of staying present that our wearisome, entertainment-seeking souls can know the splendor contained within one cubic foot. The majesty of the mountains is declared beautiful by its first time visitor. However, the square foot of forest is known to be most beautiful by the one who has spent time there.

The hidden beauty of the Wyoming mountains (Photo credit: Andrew Harlan)

It's an awful lot like living in a small town. It's easy to become restless moving about the same few miles. It's easy to become bored with the same sidewalks, same neighbors with the same gripes, same food at the same restaurants, same conversations with the same friends.

Oh, but the riches we miss when we run because of boredom! We miss goodness, beauty and the knowledge of a place that only comes with time.

Welcoming friends and strangers into a home that is known and settled.

Being surprised by how much you have yet to learn about friends you know so well.

Understanding the pain of a community, not through reading books, but by walking on the sidewalks, listening to the neighbors and observing patterns long ingrained.

Learning that love does not exist apart from loving the person, neighbor, townie right in front of you.

Realizing we must know one another in order to love.

Being known by people not because you've told them who you are, but because they've seen who you are.

My few cubic feet

Sometimes the world seems too big, sometimes too small. But either way I am learning that there is infinite beauty in each and every cubic foot of this beautiful planet, especially in our backyards, small towns and closest friends. Go. Explore. Discover. Stay.
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. 
-GK Chesterton in Orthodoxy


  1. I love this Lisa!!! And, I've been looking around for that Chesterton quote for about six years... (I heard someone mention it when I was pregnant with Susanna and I have always wanted to read it in context) Now I know where to find it. Thanks for such rich writing.

  2. I am so glad I helped you find the quote! It's one of my favorites. I think you will really enjoy Orthodoxy by GKC. He has an amazing way of revealing deep meaning and truths in the most whimsical ways!