UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Currents

Is God beyond reason?

By Trisha Elliott


Nearly half of the Old Testament consists of poetry. Fifty chapters in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) alone portray God as a designer, overseeing the construction of a sanctuary. The Bible beams with praise for the beauty of the natural world and imagines God as an artist, potter, sculptor and musician. And yet, “beauty and aesthetics are largely overlooked by theologians,” says Jo Anne Davidson in Toward a Theology of Beauty.

After the Enlightenment, theology as an intellectual pursuit eclipsed aesthetics as a vehicle for the divine. That’s changing.

Theologians are increasingly turning their attention to the theology of aesthetics — the study of how beauty, imagination and the arts inform and are informed by faith. “The aesthetics of the theologian concern the human capacity to know (and love) the unknowable, to name the unnameable, to make visible the invisible. The aesthetics of the theologian elevate the human capacity for the beautiful into the human capacity to know and love God,” writes Alex Garcia-Rivera in The Community of the Beautiful: A Theological Aesthetics.

The study of aesthetics might seem frivolous. But listen to a voice soar, or bask in a majestic cathedral or admire the brilliant hues of a sunset and there’s no denying that beauty is intrinsic to spiritual development. Beauty is a divine portal through which our hearts blossom. Finding God is not an academic exercise. It’s sensual. “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” writes the Psalmist (34:8). “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing . . . think about these things,” advises the Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:8).

Good advice. Especially in an anxious age of mass, cheap production. It’s hard to despair when you are meditating on beauty. It’s difficult to be miserable while you are marvelling. Moreover, witnessing beauty in the world inspires us to protect it.

If the church took aesthetic theology seriously, it would draw people together in awe and wonder as well as reason. Our sanctuaries would be lush with art. Our Bible studies would focus not just on parsing Scripture passages but applying imagination to their interpretation. We would come to see ourselves as co-creators with God — harbingers of beauty.

As American Pop artist, activist and Roman Catholic Sister Corita Kent writes in Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit: “Creativity belongs to the artist in each of us. To create means to relate. The root meaning of the word art is to fit together, and we all do this every day. . . . whether it is to make a loaf of bread, a child, a day.”

Rev. Trisha Elliott is a minister at City View United in Ottawa. 


Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

A perfect send-off

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: My Year of Living Spiritually

by Observer Staff

Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.

Promotional Image

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

October 2017

A tale of two cancers

by Catherine Gordon

One year after the writer discovered she had breast cancer, her sister in California received the same diagnosis. They both recovered, but their experiences were worlds apart.

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

November 2017

Grey matter

by Trisha Elliott

Is consciousness just a function of the brain — or something more?

Promotional Image