Toward a Theology of Beauty

The Word Hand, published by Navigator Press has been very helpful in experiencing the Word of God.

I have become convinced a sixth finger could properly be added to The Word Hand; seeing.

John 1:14 values experiencing the Word through “beholding.”

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son[a] from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John’s selected word for “seen” is θεάομαι, which carries the following emphases:

  • To gaze at a spectacle
  • To gaze on in contemplation
  • To observe intently
  • To interpret something by grasping its significance
  • To concentrate on so as to significantly impact and influence the viewer. 

The Psalmist is committed to experience through beauty.  Psalm 27:4

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.

“To gaze upon” in Hebrew carries the following emphases:

  • To gaze at; mentally, to perceive, contemplate (with pleasure)
  • To have a vision of
  • To behold

As Lead Cultural Architect of MCA Church, I have been increasing the emphasis of “beholding and gazing” upon the beauty of the Lord.

In “The Beauty of Holiness: Sacred Art and the New Evangelization”, Jem Sullivan invites us into a three component dance with the beauty of the Lord.

  • Seeing
  • Contemplating
  • Adoring

This trifecta of experiencing beauty is almost lost in our age of hurried glances, microwave devotionals, and self-absorption.

Unwittingly we have fallen into Isaiah’s 6:9 prophetic statement,

And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

Jesus, in Luke 8:10, challenges His contemporaries with their inability to truly see, contemplate, and adore.

10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’

Failure in Christianity to see, contemplate, and adore may be the driving force inside the surge of “mindfulness” from a Buddhist perspective in western Christianity.

As is the enemy’s standard operating procedure, mindfulness as presented in Buddhism is the exact opposite of God’s plan for mindfulness.  Mindfulness for a Christian is not a journey into the self in a meditative state to become more self-aware, but an astute observation and meditation upon God to become more aware of His grand, glorious, and gracious presence in and among His people.

Jem Sullivan writes, “It follows that the role of sacred art in the new evangelization is to lead the faithful from seeing to contemplation to adoration of God.”

“In this way, sacred art – paintings, mosaics, stained glass, sculpture, sacred music – become a “visual Gospel,” by which the faithful see, hear, and touch the mysteries of faith so as to incarnate its truths in holiness of life and Christian witness.”

Jem quotes John Paul II, “In becoming man, the Son of God has introduced into human history all the evangelical wealth of the true and the good, and with this he has also unveiled a new dimension of beauty, of which the Gospel message is filled to the brim.”

One of the epoch insights of Paul in Romans 1:20 is that humans are to see the invisible in the visible.  The visible opens windows to the invisible.

20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.

Combining Paul’s Romans 1:20 and Jem’s trifecta of beauty, we are called to an entirely different level of seeing, contemplating, and adoring key Christian symbols.

  • A cross
  • Holy Communion

May you and I leave this place with a greater grace to:

  • See
  • Contemplate
  • Adore