Lesson 12: Pay Attention to Beauty

The lillies of the fieldToo often, paying attention to beauty is regarded as a luxury in our society. People think only the affluent have time to appreciate the beautiful. Every one else has to spend all their time earning a living in order to feed their families. This kind of thinking denies the ancient wisdom that a satisfying human life needs the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

It, also, implies God is a luxury, for beauty is one of the primary ways we come to God. We seek God’s Truth with reason, we pursue God’s will with ethics, and we accept God’s Way because it is beautiful. God’s person, his vision, and his love overcome us with their beauty.

Most of us would agree, if we think about it, that love is more beautiful than reasonable or ethical. We can’t really explain love. Instead we experience it with our whole person, with our heart more than our mind. It overwhelms us with its beauty.

Our society seems to asking if we can afford beauty. In our area, the political debate has become a division between those who think government’s only role is to provide jobs and those who feel it should make other services available to the community. A wealthy developer has bankrolled 5 candidates for the school board who promise they will not raise property taxes but will grant private developers exemption from taxation. Many of us fear that the ensuing school budget limitations will cause the district to drop the arts from the curriculum.

To lose the beautiful, as found in the arts, is to lose an essential part of our humanity. Drama, music, and the fine arts are Sabbath activities. They enable us to come out of ourselves and our everyday concerns in order to ponder questions of meaning and purpose. When we go to play, attend a concert, or walk through an art gallery we grow silent, put aside what we have been doing and allow the work to impress us.

This is important, because the arts present life at its fullest. They refuse to reduce the mystery of the whole or the uniqueness of each part. The arts are beyond our control. We receive them, we respond to them, but we do not change them.

The artist is often the first to address a problem emerging in the community, often the last to hang on to a virtue. She can hold reality before us without forcing her opinion upon us. She allows us to ponder what we experience and come to our own decisions.

I came to appreciate this in my ministry. Often when issues were very controversial, I discovered I could best be prophetic not by haranguing the congregation with what they should do, but rather by using a drama in which they could examine the problem themselves and feel its urgency. I’m sure that is one reason Jesus used story more than direct teaching and law.

Of course, that means we should find beauty when we go to Church. Care should be taken that the words, the music, and the art are beautiful as well as instructive. Paying attention to beauty is certainly part of a Sabbath lifestyle.

Taking time out from the frantic pursuit of modern, everyday life includes enjoying the beautiful. Its pursuit is one way we seek God. We should not only pay attention to beauty ourselves, but also share it with those around us. Parents and grandparents should be taking their children to drama, concerts, and art galleries as ways to introduce them to beauty, knowing this is a road to God.

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4 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Derek says:

    The arts are an area that I feel Christians, myself included, are conflicted on.

    We’re comfortable enough with a choir, a garden, or a stained glass window. However the collegiate departments responsible for “the arts” can sometimes seem to be dens of iniquity. Even in what I imagine to be a relatively tame Midwestern college the performances and exhibitions tended to have an emphasis on pushing boundaries, and in all cases I can think of the best Christianity could hope for was to be ignored by the artists. Philadelphia was good at taking things rather further.

    Of course there are exceptions, and there isn’t any reason it has to be that way.

    But I must confess to some ambivalence when my daughters say they want to be an artist or dancer when they grow up. I feel that ambivalence isn’t something one would want to admit to. I feel awkward just typing about it. However I suspect it exists widely and lurks behind some of the attacks on or lack of support for the arts that we sometimes see in schools.

  2. Anne Crawford says:

    While I resonate with Fritz’s view of art and beauty, I can feel Derek’s pain. I have never viewed the arts as a platform for confrontation or a weapon to be wielded to instill anger or shock. Rather, for me, the arts have been a way to capture the feeling and ‘essence’ of things that retains their mystery and doesn’t try to reduce everything to cold, hard, facts. I am a creative writer and the art and beauty of poetry – of stringing words and phrases together to paint pictures that capture a moment, a glimpse of the divine, that I would otherwise be hard-pressed to otherwise express – is a gift that I truly believe is God-given. To pursue the arts as a career or life-calling, flies in the face of our society’s emphasis on material wealth as the only (legitimate) path to happiness or fulfilment. My life would have been dramatically different if I had pursued my creative writing as a full-time endeavor. I ended up a government policy analyst (my practical needs for a career that would provide financial stability were stronger than my dreams of devoting my life to the pursuit of my creative writing desires and talents). Nevertheless, my creative side, the ‘artsy’ part of me, is never too far from the surface, and I have found ways to express that part of me over the years in both poetry and drama. Paying attention to beauty as part of a Christian (Sabbath) lifestyle makes perfect sense to me. I just wish I could remember that when I’m neck deep in endless policy issues!

  3. Rita says:

    Fred, once again, this essay touched me. I think it’s why I garden and plant flowers every year, at great effort and cost . Just seeing those blooms in the morning brightens my whole day. And you know how much I love theater. I am currently teaching my Theater in the City class, and it is always a joy to introduce students to live theater. This summer I have seven students, and four of them had never been inside a theater. By mid-June they will have seen five different plays, including this summer a Shakespeare (“Othello”) and August Wilson (“Fences”). Theater is magic, and the arts are never given the federal or state or even corporate support that they need to keep alive.

  4. Fritz Foltz says:

    Pope Francis speaks to the way of beauty in Evangelii Gaudium, the Joy of the Gospel. Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendor and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties. Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus. This has nothing to do with fostering an aesthetic relativism which would downplay the inseparable bond between truth, goodness and beauty, but rather a renewed esteem for beauty as a means of touching the human heart and enabling the truth and goodness of the Risen Christ to radiate within it. If, as Saint Augustine says, we love only that which is beautiful, the incarnate Son, as the revelation of infinite beauty, is supremely lovable and draws us to himself with bonds of love. So a formation in the via pulchritudinis [the way of beauty] ought to be part of our effort to pass on the faith. Each particular Church should encourage the use of the arts in evangelization, building on the treasures of the past but also drawing
    upon the wide variety of contemporary expressions so as to transmit the faith in a new “language of parables.”


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