Beauty

Is there a purpose in beauty?  Why are we naturally drawn to it, inclined toward it?  Why are we moved by it?  Science has proven that an infant’s eyes linger longer on a more attractive face, long before socialization would play a role in their preference.  In other words, even before we could be “taught” to enjoy beauty, we do.  We inherently do.  Is this a result of sin?  Or is this a part of the image of God stamped on us?  Could it be, as N. T. Wright calls it, an echo of a Voice?  A beckoning within?  Given to us, implanted within us, to draw us toward Something?  These questions matter to me because I think often about the way I respond to beauty, the effect it has on me, my enjoyment of it, and the purpose of it all.  In my opinion, how we answer these questions may seem inconsequential, but in truth has a great impact on the way we live out our faith before the Lord.

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I love these words by N. T. Wright:

“The Christian tradition has said, and indeed sung, that the glory belongs to God the creator.  It is his voice we hear echoing off the crags, murmuring in the sunset.  It is his power we feel in the crashing of the waves and the roar of the lion.  It is his beauty we see reflected in a thousand faces and forms.

And when the cynic reminds us that people fall off crags, get lost after sunset, and are drowned by waves and eaten by lions; when the cynic cautions that faces get old and lined and forms get pudgy and sick–then we Christians do not declare that it was all a mistake.  We do not avail ourselves of Plato’s safety hatch and say that the real world is not a thing of space, time, and matter but another world into which we can escape.  We say that the present world is the real one, and that it’s in bad shape but expecting to be repaired.  We tell, in other words, the story we told in the first chapter: the story of a good Creator longing to put the world back into the good order for which it was designed.  We tell the story of a God who does the two things, which, some of the time at least, we know we all want and need: a God who completes what he has begun, a God who comes to the rescue of those who seem lost and enslaved in the world the way it is now.”

{N. T. Wright, Simply Christian}

What do you think?  Does beauty matter?

ps.  If you haven’t read Simply Christian, it is one book you should definitely read in your lifetime.  Period.  Probably on my list of top ten books I’ve ever read.

He took on flesh

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“The daily practice of incarnation–of being in the body with full confidence that God speaks the language of the flesh–is to discover a pedagogy that is as old as the gospels. Why else did Jesus spend his last night on earth teaching His disciples to wash feet and share supper? With all the conceptual truths in the universe at his disposal, he did not give them something to think about together when he was gone. Instead, he gave them concrete things to do–specific ways of being together in their bodies–that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself.

After he was gone, they would still have God’s Word, but that Word was going to need some new flesh. The disciples were going to need something warm and near that they could bump into on a regular basis, something so real that they would not be able to intellectualize it and so essentially untidy that there was no way they could ever gain control over it. So Jesus gave them things they could get their hands on, things that would require them to get close enough to touch one another. In the case of the meal, he gave them things they could smell and taste and swallow. In the case of the feet, he gave them things to wash that were attached to real human beings, so that they could not bend over them without being drawn into one another’s lives.

Wow. How did you get that scar? Does it hurt when I touch it? No, really, they’re not ugly. You should see mine. Yours just have a few more miles on them. Do you ever feel like you can’t go any further? Like you just want to stop right here and let this be it? I know, I can’t stop either. It’s weird, isn’t it? You follow him and you follow him, thinking that any minute now the sky is going to crack open, and you’re going to see the face of God. Then he hands you his basin and his towel, and it turns out that it’s all about feet, you know? Yours, mine, his. Feet, for God’s sake.

I am making this up, of course. Read the Bible commentaries and they will tell you that the foot washing in John’s gospel is an eschatological sign of Jesus’ descent into flesh before his exaltation to God’s right hand, or a symbolic representation of first-century baptismal theology. But I will tell you this. After years of watching bodies being dug out of craters in Manhattan and caves in Afghanistan, after the body counts coming from Southeast Asia, Gaza, and Iraq, most of us could use a reminder that God does not come to us beyond the flesh but in the flesh, at the hands of a teacher who will not be spiritualized but who goes on trusting the embodied sacraments of bread, wine, water, and feet.

‘Do this,’ he said–not believe this, but do this–‘in remembrance of me.'”

-Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World