Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Beauty Made Me Do It

Earlier today, I was reading Robin Jensen's book The Substance of Things Seen: Art, Faith, and the Christian Community. Paraphrasing what Jensen tells us, to speak of beauty in reference to God is not about surface appearances.  In theological aesthetics, we have historically understood beauty as a kind of divine attractiveness.  That is, something that draws us to God through its physical properties, evoking wonder, delight, or awe.  In one chapter, Jensen writes about two different styles of architecture and how both the gothic and the ascetic evoke this sense of the beautiful and the splendid.  She also talks about nonrepresentational art, and parallels Mark Rothko's use of color, pigment, and light to apophatic theology by provoking a kind of devotional experience that is nonverbal and nonliteral. 

I have design issues on the mind, so as I read these passages, I considered the sanctuary space at Convergence.  It's a mid-century modern building with tall stained glass windows of bold colors.  Most of the colors of the windows are primary colors. I love that sanctuary because it's a colorful, yet calm place.  That's what I imagine "sanctuary" to be – calming, safe, peaceful but not in a sleepy, boring, way, but in a way that touches and stirs the soul.  The feeling inside the sanctuary changes as the day progresses and the light shifts. It is dim and muted in the evenings.  But in the afternoon, when the sun is streaming through the tallest windows, it is brilliant and dazzling with color.  

I walked into the sanctuary this afternoon with the intention of going to my temporary office and doing some work.  But the beauty of the space stopped me in my tracks.  Color, texture and light invited me to observe and experience Beauty with a capital "B."  Despite my head and heart knowledge about art and faith, I normally don't go around attributing every glorious thing I see to the divine.  It's not that I don't recognize God as Creator – rather it's that I do.  I'm suspicious when people say that God is Creator, and we as humans are created in God's image, therefore we're creators, too - with a little "c" of course. That seems too anthropocentric a picture of God to be ok with me.  Surely we don't create in the way God creates.  So the relationship between God as Creator and us as creators seems more complex than our status as image-bearers of God might permit. 

But what I experienced today gave me a glimpse of what that relationship could be.  I saw God's infusion into human creation, and it attracted me to the transcendent, evoked the glory of God, and provoked me to become a creator myself.  I felt as if that room was allowed me to look through it to see the very presence of God, and that I was called to be a witness to it and to share it with someone else. After I soaked it up for a few minutes, I had to, had to, re-create the experience for whoever would care.  I chose to recreate it in the only way I knew how – through words and pictures.  So forgive me if my attempts are a little clumsy or amateurish.  I'm a creator with a little "c".

--Elise Edwards

1 comment:

Moff said...

That sanctuary is one of my favorite places to pray right now. It is so very beautiful, and its emptiness only makes it more so. I feel like you can tell there's been a lot of prayer in there... the quiet is so... soft. Sometimes quiet is uncomfortable, but the quiet in that sanctuary is an invitation to pray.
Thanks for the post about it, and of course for the lovely picture of one of my favorite places.