When Gay was out for her morning walk yesterday, she discovered this amazing mushroom growing on the base of a tree in our neighborhood. She took a series of photographs of it with her iPhone and today she took me to see it. It is a truly beautiful work of art!
I wondered what type of mushroom it is and what its purpose might be. Wikipedia tells me it is some type of Laetiporus, probably Laetiporus cincinnatus, given our location in Kentucky. Specimens have been found that weigh over 100 pounds. Some species of this “shelf” mushroom are edible and people prepare it the same way one would prepare chicken. In fact, one name for this mushroom is “chicken of the woods.” It is most commonly found on the wounds of trees and contributes to the demise of its host. The fungus is kinder to humans in that this type of mushroom has potent ability to inhibit staph bacteria and is effective in fighting certain forms of bacteria.
One thing my research did not explain is why the fungus is so beautiful. I’m fairly sure it has nothing to do with reproduction, which is an oft-encountered explanation with other living things. Gay and I talked about that and here’s what she said:
"God loves beauty for beauty’s sake. For example, that’s why we are raising money to buy a new pipe organ for The Church of the Good Shepherd. God lavishes beauty upon us and we, in turn, want to lavish beauty on God."
I’m reminded of a similar conversation years ago with my friend John. It was an epiphany for me. We were talking about churches, architecture, and liturgy. He said, “It’s called 'holy waste.' It's like the precious oil the woman poured on the feet of Jesus. Judas complained about how the oil could have been sold and the money used to care for the poor. Jesus, on the other hand, seemed to appreciate the woman’s gesture. His response to Judas was a reminder that when one has a generous heart, it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. We can be generous in our demonstration of love for our God and our neighbor.”
When you think about how generous God is with beauty throughout creation, even in a mushroom, you have to be inspired to want to be generous in return whenever an opportunity arises to do something beautiful for God.