Friday, February 08, 2019

Why Beauty?

Philippians 4:8-9 NRSV
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the Peace of God will be with you.

Paul tells his congregation in Philippi, and us, that God’s peace comes from focusing on what is good and true…and beautiful! The congregation in Philippi knew, as we do, that there’s always something to complain about, sometimes deeply hurtful things. However, as children of God, we know that life is a gift from God and to be celebrated. As Christians, we know that following Jesus leads us on a path that, while perhaps not easy, is full of the Peace of God.

For 2000 years Christians have tried to follow Jesus. Today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews is another example of what that path looks like. To me these steps – the practice of deep empathy – are ‘next-level’ instructions, lessons for those who are at a place within themselves that they can focus on others.

Jesus knew his path isn’t easy! We are so easily distracted! How do we know where the path is? How do we stay to it? Christians in America today are perhaps more like the congregation in Philippi than previous centuries’ of Christians -- we are seriously outside the cultural norm and the path we are trying to follow, and to lead others’ towards, is obscured.

The Psalmist instructs us, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”


Certainly, God’s word was all that was necessary for John Calvin in the 16th century: Scripture alone would bring the beauty of God’s creation into focus, creating a clear path to God’s Peace.

Calvin, in his Institutes, tells us that nature is indeed a “most beautiful book.” The natural world is the first instruction we receive in learning about God. And the natural world instructs us in God’s order and God’s desire. Calvin would say we need to follow Scripture to unlock God’s plan.

But the natural world is vast! And, in our daily lives, the world seems very different than what Scripture describes. For multiple reasons, sola scriptura cannot be our only lamp. Following Jesus was never easy; in the 21st century it is ever-more complicated.

But...Calvin was on to something: focusing.

How do we know what to focus on? How do we learn “to see heaven in a wild flower?”


I’m going to jump forward through the Romantics 400 years to Los Angeles in the mid-1960s.


Sister Corita Kent was a deeply formed Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Her college classes were filled with young women who were not necessarily Catholic or practicing Christians; when you hear Corita teaching, it’s not surprising that she never talks about God, Jesus, or the Sacraments... She talked a lot about Beauty. Sister Corita believed in the beauty of the world and the joy of the everyday. She was frustrated that art could only mean one way of seeing. Told by her Roman Catholic superiors that her art wasn’t appropriate, she turned to the world outside the Church.

Corita used the ordinary items of her contemporary Los Angeles world and refocused them, telling a counter-cultural story, making a spiritual message, pointing to God’s Peace.

This is one of Sister Corita's students, as a class, downtown, on Sunset Blvd, participating in an exercise on focusing.

Corita tells her class that of course it is possible to take the whole of the world in…but sometimes what you need a small piece. In her words,

“I think that's really what a work of art's a small piece that you can digest which gives you a kind of idea of the richness that is in the whole.”


Where does this journey from Paul through the Reformation, Romantic Era and into our own take us? We too are called to focus others on God's Great Work.

And it is indeed what we are doing with Signs of Life!

Sadly, it doesn’t serve our purpose well to walk around with a 1-inch square view-focuser…

Instead, the Brothers' understanding of the Eucharist, of living the liturgy daily, of living in Community, will help us create Lamps…Signs…that illuminate the everyday. And, I hope, use the everyday to illuminate the Sacred.

In the Lent 2020 Offering, we –Brothers and Communications people and curriculum writers alike—are being asked to focus on very small portions of God’s Grandeur in our hope that others will come to love Jesus and this liturgical way of living in God’s Peace.

[this is where my homily ended, officially]


I started on this homolini with a scripture search for “Beauty” and of course the first up was “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Vapid? Yes. But it also begs the question: Who is the beholder?

What is beautiful to one person may not be to another. How do we talk about what we believe to be Beautiful and True without dismissing others’ experience?

One of the very great dangers of this entire project is that we will end up in a binary area with one side heavily weighted towards Grace and the other unvalued.


Swinging back to our mini theme of Beauty, I want to start us with a quote from the Rule of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist:

“This deep intention at the heart of our life to find God in all things means learning to trust that divine companionship continues undiminished even when we feel only boredom and frustration.”
If this is so, then beauty must also be available in all of creation, even what we think of as ugly.

**what is the counterpoint to Beauty? If the world God created is Good, can anything be ugly?

What's the counterpoint? Counterpoint brings more than one voice into relationship with the melody, highlighting one and then other for a polyphonic experience.

Is the counterpoint of Beauty ... Falsehood?

**Is beauty solely in the mind? How do you experience beauty with your body?

What I want to ask is: What is the “practical application” of beauty.
We know beauty – if we are the beholder –

How does this play out liturgically?

If we were to apply this theme to the structure of the others, what would be the theological meaning of Beauty? And how would we see that meaning in the liturgy and reflected back into our lives?

***affiliated readings***

Philippians 4:8-9 The Message

Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious -- the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

Pied Beauty, Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things –

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;

And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

Auguries of Innocence, William Blake

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour

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