Beauty calls

Refugees beind wire

If we can’t welcome the world’s pain

If we shut our eyes to all that’s ugly

If no lament sides our praise

We don’t know Beauty.

 

If we can’t touch what’s ugly

If we shut out all that pains

We resist Beauty’s call.

 

Yet Beauty raises her voice.

In the market she cries out

“My words are just

For I lift up the lowly

To reign as the beautified;

Them I move to right the world

 

And give me praise.”

 

Implicit themes from Scripture

I have titled these verses as “Beauty Calls.”  Yet as should be evident from the following background, another good title would be, “The Acts of Commissioning Beauty.”  I was much inspired by calling to mind several Scriptures; namely: Proverbs 8.1-8; Isaiah 61.1-3; Matthew 25.34-40; Luke 1.52, 4.16-18; Acts 1.8; and 1 Corinthians 13.

Let me briefly elaborate on some of the biblical imageries and themes.  The poem begins with the hyperbole of 1 Corinthians 13: “If I . . . but have not love,” I am a noisy gong, I am nothing, and I gain nothing.  Next, the poem recalls from the perspective of Psalms, the integral role of lament.  What we learn from the biblical example is that just as congregational worship requires praise and thanksgiving, so also it requires lament.  If there is no room for lament in our worship, we are really out of touch with the heart of God.  Third, the poem indirectly refers to Christ as materially present within suffering humanity; this is how I read the parable of the Final Judgement (Matt 25).  Then the poem likens Beauty to Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 8.  Lady Wisdom is, Beauty.

Finally, the poem also likens Beauty to the Holy Spirit who comes upon us, empowering us for mission.  I have rendered this coming upon” in a forceful sense; hence Beauty is the subject who acts on us as object— moving us to action.  Thus Beauty says: Them I move to right the world.”  What results, is praise.

Theological themes

These verses also reflect several theological themes, all related to the ancient Christian notion of beauty as an attribute of God. In this sense, Beauty is also known as one of the three Transcendental Attributes, along with Goodness and Truth.

The poem thus reflects a theological aesthetic comprising a strong missional theme, which I believe should be implicit within any Christian theological aesthetic.  More specifically, what the poem evokes is a theological aesthetic in the keys of mission and Pentecost.

Here I am particularly drawing on the works of three theologians who each in varied ways suggest how theological aesthetics should foster increasing union with God in His mission to save and perfect creation.  First is Roman Catholic Oliver Davis, whose sacramental Christology I complement with Wesleyan theologian Stephen John Wright’s notion of Beauty as Subject who acts on human objects.  Foremost funding this poem however are themes derived from the theological aesthetic developed by the late South American Roman Catholic theologian, Alejandro García-Rivera.

Davis is especially known for his sacramental Christology.[1]  He argues for greater recognition of Christ’s missionally summoning reign, sacramentally present within suffering creation.[2]  From this theme, he discusses the role of aesthetics toward life formation in the context of Christian discipleship.  More specifically, Davies argues that theologically, aesthetics means increasing harmony between our actions and God’s moral will toward creation—hence, a perfecting form that emerges through our enacted union with Christ’s mission within creation.  He stresses that our aesthetical focus should not primarily be about reflecting on beauty as the beauty of Christ, but on our acting in union with Christ’s beauty.[3] He thus writes, “The beauty of Christ is not something we primarily behold therefore, within epistemology…but is something we primarily encounter and enter into in life, through acts, with implications for epistemology.”[4]

Yet I am pushing Davies’ reasoning towards the Pentecostal stress on the Spirit of Christ as Subject who acts on human objects (Luke 4.16-18; Acts 1.8).  I would proffer that this suggests— the beauty of Christ that summons us to missional action.   Hence, as the poem suggest, Beauty is the Subject who acts on human objects— calling them to moral action.

I derived this theme from Wesleyan theologian Stephen John Wright.  Wright argues that in true Christian ecstatic experience, Beauty “acts upon” us, granting us vision towards the coming beautifying of creation.[5]  Drawing on the Wesleyan notion of prevenient grace, he also argues that when Beauty acts on us, it summons us to co-operative synergy with the Holy Spirit towards shaping the future according to God’s moral aims for creation.[6]

Finally, the theological aesthetic this poem evokes, foremost reflects insights I have received from Alejandro García-Rivera’s book, The Community of the Beautiful: A Theological Aesthetics (The Liturgical Press, 1999).[7]  Let me recall several pertinent themes from García-Rivera’s work.  García-Rivera begins by drawing some important differences between the notions of aesthetics, Beauty, beautiful, theological aesthetics, and glory and praise.

He notes that in both ancient and more modern discourse, philosophical reflection on aesthetics has been concerned with the question, “What moves the human heart?”[8]  Regarding Beauty, he consistently depicts it as one of the three Transcendental Predicates; hence, along with the Good and True, one of the three chief qualities of God.[9]  García-Rivera correlates Beauty to glory.  The purpose of God’s glory is evocative: to evoke our “praise.”[10]  Meanwhile, the “beautiful,” refers to those who give God praise; or that which gives God praise.[11]  Those creatures responding to Beauty’s call for praise, García-Rivera designates as, “the community of the Beautiful.”[12]

Drawing from Mary’s “Magnificat (Luke 1.46-55), García-Rivera argues that “giving praise” requires an aesthetic/artistic notion known as, “foregrounding.”  This refers to bringing something/someone that has been kept in the background, to the “foreground,” which involves shifting at the same time to the background, that or those who were earlier in the foreground.  Mary’s song reveals the work of “foreground” in her, phrase, “lifted up.”  Those without power have now become “lifted up,” while those in power have been “brought down” (Luke 1.52).[13]  This García-Rivera argues is what theological aesthetics is all about: “foregrounding”: the lifting up of the lowly.  This requires a “community of the Beautiful,” those moved by Beauty’s call.  The community of the Beautiful involves themselves in God’s redemptive work of “foregrounding” (lifting up the lowly).  By doing so, they give God praise.[14]  Therefore, García-Rivera suggests that what emerges is a “cosmic liturgy,” whereby the “Community of the Beautiful” “receiving Glory and returns Praise”;[15] in other words, that “receives Gift and returns Eucharist.”[16]

Let me conclude with a relevant descriptive of Pentecostals at worship before God.  As Pentecostal theologian Daniel Castelo says, we should define ourselves as an “epicletic community” who live doxologically before God.  This means waiting yet ready for renewing encounter with Him through fresh comings of His Spirit.[17]  May I suggest that we approach times of epicletic encounter with expectation of dreams, visions, and prophesies.  In doing so, may we receive visions of Christ hidden within crippled humanity.  For there at the gate called Beautiful, we hear Him calling.  There His Spirit acts on us.  There His Spirit sends us with prophesies of new creation walking, leaping, and praising God.

Amazon Link to García-Rivera’s book:

García-Rivera, Alejandro. The Community of the Beautiful: A Theological Aesthetics. Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazier, The Liturgical Press, 1999.

END NOTES

[1] Oliver Davies’ Christology exemplifies his broader project in he refers to as the immanent-material orientation of Transformation Theology and its corresponding material/mind causality oriented methodologies.  See: Oliver Davies, Theology of Transformation: Faith, Freedom, and the Christian Act (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013); Oliver Davies, Paul D. Janz, and Clemens Sedmak, Transformation Theology: Church in the World (London, UK: T & T Clark, 2007); Paul D. Janz, “What is ‘Transformation Theology’?” American Theological Inquiry 2, no. 2 (July 2009): 9-22.  Four essays in a 2015 edition of the Journal of Pentecostal Theology explored implications his work raises for pentecostal theology.  As Frank D. Macchia points out, Davies’ work richly resonates with the traditional pentecostal stress on Christ’s Spirit-giving presence within the church, while prompting them “to think more materially about where the exalted Christ is encountered in our world”; “A Theology of Christ as Act: A Response to Oliver Davies,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 24 (2015): 145–53 (151).

[2] Davies, Theology of Transformation, 60-61.

[3] Ibid, 26-27; see also 200-201.

[4] Ibid, 27.

[5] Stephen John Wright, “Apocalyptic Beauty: God’s Priority and the Ontology of the Future,” Aldersgate Papers: Theological Journal of the Australasian Centre for Wesleyan Research, vol. 9 (September 2011): 9-21 (14).

[6] Ibid, 17-18.

[7] Alejandro García-Rivera, The Community of the Beautiful: A Theological Aesthetics (Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazier, The Liturgical Press, 1999),

[8] Ibid, 9.

[9] Ibid, 10-11.

[10] Ibid, 12-14.

[11] Ibid, 13-14.

[12] Ibid, 37, 155-196.

[13] Ibid, 37.

[14] Ibid, 37-38, 195-196

[15] Ibid, 17; 185.

[16] Ibid, 20.

[17] Daniel Castelo, Revisioning Pentecostal Ethics: The Epicletic Community (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2012), 2-3, 22.

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