Showing items filed under “A: The Narthex: coming to faith, natural knowledge of God”

The Way of Beauty

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Let us start with the idea of uselessness.  Think of the things that are, strictly speaking, useless, and yet of great importance in your life.  Having a leisurely dinner with friends, looking at a sunset or a painting, celebrating the victory of your team:  these are not means to an end, but rather moments to be enjoyed. Now, one might respond that they could prove useful: that friend might become a client, that painting might be bought as an asset, and winning might lower one’s blood pressure! But these are beside the point: the activities themselves are useless, and as such we sense that they tell us something about who we really are.  Of course, the One who is “worthwhile” in and of Himself is God, whom, St. Augustine said, is only to be enjoyed and never used. (Using God goes under such names as “idolatry” and “works righteousness,” about which we will have more to say later). 

Sometimes people say that their form of worship is standing on a mountain top watching a sunset.  There is something true in this, for worship does involve the beautiful -- as well as the good and the true, which together are called in philosophy the “transcendentals”. Beauty implies coherence and perfection; it makes the object stand out, to shine.  All these can in some partial way point us on to the One who is “beautiful in holiness,” who stands out in such brightness as to make creation tremble (Isaiah6).  In other words, the experience of beauty suggests worship to our hearts, not least because for a moment we forget ourselves. Who would be the One before whom we fully forget ourselves and to whom we completely offer ourselves?  It is no accident that Revelation4-5 and 21 offer beautiful pictures of our eternal and worshipful destiny with God that are replete with light and song. That mountain sunset is important, but it is just the beginning… .

John Paul II, Letter to Artists

Every genuine artistic intuition goes beyond what the senses perceive and, reaching beneath reality's surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery. The intuition itself springs from the depths of the human soul, where the desire to give meaning to one's own life is joined by the fleeting vision of beauty and of the mysterious unity of things. All artists experience the unbridgeable gap which lies between the work of their hands, however successful it may be, and the dazzling perfection of the beauty glimpsed in the ardour of the creative moment: what they manage to express in their painting, their sculpting, their creating is no more than a glimmer of the splendor which flared for a moment before the eyes of their spirit.

Believers find nothing strange in this: they know that they have had a momentary glimpse of the abyss of light which has its original wellspring in God. Is it in any way surprising that this leaves the spirit overwhelmed as it were, so that it can only stammer in reply? True artists above all are ready to acknowledge their limits and to make their own the words of the Apostle Paul, according to whom “God does not dwell in shrines made by human hands” so that “we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold or silver or stone, a representation by human art and imagination” (Acts 17:24, 29). If the intimate reality of things is always “beyond” the powers of human perception, how much more so is God in the depths of his unfathomable mystery!

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

All God made is good; that the whole world is a sacrament of divine presence. Through material things we can worship God and learn about Him. Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory!

God is present in the icons and also in the Eucharist, but the manner of His presence is different.

Icons safeguard our faith in the fullness of the Incarnation, our faith in the creativity of the human person made according to God’s image, our faith in the intrinsic holiness of all material things. God is good – He is Goodness itself. God is true – He is Truth itself. God is beautiful – He is Beauty itself”. Holy icons underline divine beauty. Beauty is attractive and draws us to itself. Beauty calls to us and draws us to itself. Icons show the attractiveness of God. They are our door to eternity. Icons help us understand the very Glory of God!





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From what we have said already, one can readily see that the things that might draw a person to faith in God are quite diverse: a consideration of our own hearts’ desires, science, philosophy, the religions of the world.  But there is another factor, a darker one, casting a shadow across our path.  One philosopher actually described life as “being-toward-death.”  We humans try in a variety of ways to distract ourselves from looking at it. In one way or another, however, all religions would give an account of it, and so turn our attention back to it. In the Christian tradition there was a constant spiritual theme of “memento mori,” “recall death,” and the Psalmist would have us learn to “number our days.” (90:12)

Bringing death to mind shows us ourselves more clearly: our desire to escape, the question of what life is for, the possibility that “all is vanity and a chasing after wind.”  Death makes the question of faith more urgent, though sometimes we bargain with God when we have a health crisis, only to lapse back into somnolence when it is over. It is said that there are no atheists in the foxhole, though afterwards people may do different things with its trauma. At the very least we can say that humans decide for against faith in God against the dark horizon of death: it can be the contrast for the light of God’s presence, like the effect called “chiaroscuro” in art.

As Christians we can point out one more important feature of our understanding of death.  We shall see that the idea of the world’s death, its end, in Greek the “eschaton,” was a theme in the Scriptures crucial in understanding its claim about Jesus Christ. We would err to suppose that the Scriptures’ message is just mythological talk for our own personal deaths. Still, confronting our own end is an important doorway to help us understand what is being claimed about the world as a whole in light of Jesus Christ.

Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death –  He kindly stopped for me –   The Carriage held but just Ourselves –   And Immortality.  We slowly drove – He knew no haste And I had put away My labor and my leisure too, For His Civility –   We passed the School, where Children strove At Recess – in the Ring –  We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –   We passed the Setting Sun –   Or rather – He passed us –  The Dews drew quivering and chill –  For only Gossamer, my Gown –  My Tippet – only Tulle –  

Marcus Aurelius

Some things are rushing into existence, others out of it. Some of what now exists is already gone. Change and flux constantly remake the world, just as the incessant progression of time remakes eternity. 

We find ourselves in a river. Which of the things around us should we value when none of them can offer a firm foothold? 

Like an attachment to a sparrow: we glimpse it and it’s gone. 

And life itself: like the decoction of blood, the drawing in of air. We expel the power of breathing we drew in at birth (just yesterday or the day before), breathing it out like the air we exhale at each moment.


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