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(Non-trigger warning: the following post makes no reference to the election.)

Two recent comments have me thinking about beauty. First, from a young adult: a complaint about being told that she ought to like something “because it is beautiful.” She asks who decides if something is beautiful, and she wants to push back against the claim that she ought to like something that she doesn’t see as beautiful. Second, from a famous philosopher: a claim that arguments can be made for something to be beautiful. The beautiful is not the useful, and in fact might not be useful. But how it fits, how (say) the color scheme of a room goes together, this sort of thing (he was saying) can be explained, taught, and learned. 

Can beauty be taught?

A small bit of an answer: It pleases me to find an interesting pattern underneath a song. I’m (what did Bishop Sumner say at convention?) “long in the tooth”; I’m old enough to have aural memories of Petula Clark and hits like “Downtown” and “Don’t Sleep in the Subway, Darling.” Both of those songs have complicated rhythms which overlay a simple 4/4 time. The important words never rest on a downbeat until you get to the climax of the song. That’s what makes the songs work, and it delights me to uncover the structure that supports their beauty. So I would be able to explain to someone how they work—why they are beautiful—but, of course, the beauty is not in the explanation. It’s in the experience.

True story: I rode DART to DFW a couple of months ago. For the short walk from the end of the trainline to the terminal, they have a gently curving sidewalk, partially shaded, with music playing. What did I hear? “Don’t Sleep on the Subway, Darling.” 

It’s these little things that make me happy.


In Losing Susan, I say that none of us would ever have gone after Jesus if we hadn’t found him to be in some way beautiful. The beautiful catches our eye; it is attractive. So I write: “[Jesus] was of course beautiful as a baby, and beautiful as a young man; but he was also strangely beautiful when he was bloodied and abused and did not strike back. There was beauty when he talked with crazy people; beauty when he touched dirty and sick people; beauty even in his rare angers. None of us has seen Jesus in the flesh, and yet this beauty of his is in our grasp. And once we know his beauty, there’s no way we could ever forget him.”

I suppose there is no way of saying in advance what will be beautiful. But once the beautiful catches us, there is no way for us to deny that it really is beautiful. I can’t, in any event, deny that Jesus has caught my attention. And while no one would have thought a cross could be beautiful, the truth is that, to our surprise, it is.


Out & about. Sunday, November 13, I will be preaching at the traditional services at Church of the Incarnation (7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m.), 3966 McKinney, Dallas. My topic is Daniel chapter 6. . . . My sermon at the All Souls’ Day requiem can be seen here:

My essay “Let the Liturgy Be” is in the November 13 issue of The Living Church. I try to understand the liturgy in terms of the church’s mission, which I try to ground in the missions of the being of God.


Praying for the Dead

A lot of confusion comes from mistaking “one-way” things as “two-way” things. Perhaps we get this from the continuing imaginative hold of relativity physics, according to which time and space are merely aspects of a single continuum that embraces both of them. Obviously, we can just as well drive from Denton to Dallas as we could Dallas to Denton. But I can’t wake up and have it be yesterday. Space, unlike time, is a two-way thing. You can move to New York, and you can move back. You can make the biggest mistake of your life and go to Florida, and you can reverse that and come back here. (With apologies to Floridians!)

But (despite images drawn from the space-time continuum) we cannot go backwards in time. There might be subatomic particles that do so, but humans don’t. Time is one-way.

Which is why this life is eternally important. What we do between our conception and our death is decisive for who we are forever. Life is never a straight line: we make lots of turns, including turnings back. We repent. We ask for forgiveness. But all our turnings and returnings are in time: we can never utterly erase a period of our life. What we do, going forward, can recontextualize our past; we can, say through sincere repentance, let God reshape us into new people. But forgiveness is not obliteration.

It is a fundamental Christian claim that this life matters eternally. And this life ends in death, that moment which is the period at the end of the sentence. In some transformed way it turns out that our death is not the end of our existence. Yet what goes on thereafter never goes back on what happens before.

Our prayers for the dead are prayers based on two things: the acceptance of their life as they lived it, their actual life that has ended in their death; and our complete hope in God’s grace, that he holds them in the bosom of Abraham, that they rest in Jesus, that he continues doing for them better things than we can ask or imagine. We cannot pray that time go backwards, that their life be different than it in fact was, or that they somehow become un-dead. But we can and do pray that God continues to hold them in his love, that he sees them through the cross, that Jesus embraces them in his solidarity with every human being.


Out & about. Sunday, November 6, I will be preaching at 8 and 10 a.m. at All Souls’ Church, 6400 N. Pennsylvania Ave., Oklahoma City. I will also be teaching classes there at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday through Wednesday. The morning classes will be on why the book of Job is the best book of the Bible. The evening classes will be on suffering, caring, and dying.

Sunday, November 13, I will be preaching at Church of the Incarnation, 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas, at the contemporary services at 7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m.


The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: