Finding Beauty in a Year of Zoom

by Judith A. Davis

A year ago, we had no idea what this day would hold in the pandemic.
All year, save those precious days last January when we were birding at the beach, we have been
             mostly hunkered down at home–
No need for suitcase or GPS. We have slowed down.
We have pondered what matters.
We have taken Mary Oliver’s advice to remember what our work is–
             “standing still and learning to be astonished.”i
Virtual Church became the norm. Even as we tired of Zoom,
             we were glad to “see” one another at Church.
I prayed and sang, talked and lectured, presided at Church (by Zoom).
I wrote an icon of Julian of Norwich in a class of ten women and a teacher in San Diego (by Zoom).
I gave an art history lecture/retreat for Benedictine oblates, and gave not a few sermons (by Zoom).
I sent Compline every Wednesday for a whole year (by e-mail).

I wrote an illuminated manuscript of Gloria Patri et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto, with
             music notes I could chant–in a class of sixteen from around the country and an
             instructor in Philadelphia (by Zoom).
I attended a lecture on art and spirituality by Sister Joan Chittister who reminded us that Beauty will
             save the world (by Zoom).
Keats said, “Beauty is Truth, Truth, Beauty”. . .all we need to know.ii
The Desert and Chinese Monastics said if you have two pennies, buy a loaf of bread with one
             and a Lily with the other. You cannot live by bread alone.iii
You need beauty to find your soul.

I found a university poetry course and wrote poems in class (by Zoom).
I read my poems at a bookstore reading of “Writers at Home” (by Zoom).
I joined the Great Smokies Writing Program (by Zoom).
I sang in the choral society (by Zoom).
I spent much time outdoors with my birds (not by Zoom).
I took an ornithology course at Cornell (by Zoom).
I attended workshops on spirituality (by Zoom).
I learned new things in a year of shutdown (by Zoom).

The year has been for finding our souls, for finding beauty in this winter of
             our discontent, for finding a way to sing on Zoom rehearsals, for finding our way
             on the road we do not know, as Thomas Merton said.iv
T. S. Eliot said we would arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.v
Mary Oliver said, “let me keep my mind on what matters.”vi
Zoom on my soul, what matters is writing poems, studying birds,
             and singing the song my heart remembers–“it is well with my soul.”vii

The Reverend Dr. Judith A. Davis was raised in Eastern North Carolina. She was a university professor in North Carolina before becoming an Episcopal priest, serving parishes in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Washington, DC for thirty years. She retired to Western North Carolina in 2018 and lives with her family and four cats in Brevard, North Carolina. She took her first course with the Great Smokies Writing Program in 2021.


i Mary Oliver, “Messenger” in Thirst: Poems by Mary Oliver. Boston: Beacon Press, 2006, p. 1.

ii John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn” in Poetry Foundation at Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats | Poetry Foundation.

iii "Chinese Proverb Quotes." STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 18 Jul 2021. Matthew 4:4 in the New Testament says: “But Jesus answered, ‘It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’

iv Paraphrase from a prayer of Thomas Merton in Thoughts in Solitude, New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1958, p. 83.

v T. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding,” section V, The Four Quartets. Boston: Mariner Books of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1968, p. 40.

vi Mary Oliver, “Messenger.”

vii Hymn, “When Peace, like a River,” in Lift Every Voice and Sing II. New York: Church Publishing, 1993, #188.