In De Musica, Augustine described beauty as “a plank amid the waves of the sea.” From the perspective of process theology, the experience of beauty not only offers life-saving rescue from the storms of life, but also serves as a glimpse into the very nature of God and the world.
Writing this book during the coronavirus quarantine offers new meaning to the phrase, “waves of the sea,” as waves of the virus sweep across the globe, ravaging lives and livelihoods. This new catastrophe layered atop systemic racism, economic injustice, and the existential threat of climate change, catapults Augustine’s words into a new world on the brink of drowning. How can beauty be a plank against such waves? How is beauty relevant in such times as these? What part does beauty play in the transformation of our exhausted and beleaguered world? And how can beauty tend to our aching souls in these times of crises on every front?
These are some of the questions I address in this short theology of beauty, inspired by process theology, scripture, experience—and in loving companionship with poets, philosophers, artists, mystics, musicians, and the mother of all teachers: nature herself.
“And who do you think you are sauntering along five feet up in the air, the ocean a blue fire around your ankles, the sun on your face on your shoulders its golden mouth whispering (so it seems) you! you! you!” — Mary Oliver, “On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate (Psalm 145)”
You Are Amazing You are a world of amazement — a universe of jaw-dropping, eye-popping, breathless awe. It doesn’t matter what you look like or what you accomplish in this world or who you know or how much you have. You are an original work of art. You are loved. You are accepted. You were created for joy.
I think parents should say this every single day to their children, starting with tiny babies and never letting up through the angst of teen years and beyond. The world is battering. We often feel ashamed, misshapen, misunderstood, and insignificant. For some, these feelings can rise to a crisis point in early years or play out sadly in middle age; they can be cruelly exacerbated by racism and bigotry. There are people who will never accept you as they seek to “put you in your place.” But your place is front and center in the meaning of the universe!
In the spiritual alphabet “Y” is for you because spirituality needs to root itself firmly in the soil of unconditional love and divine inhabitation of you — whoever you are. (click here to read the entire essay)
As we move around this world and as we act with kindness . . . or with indifference or with hostility toward the people we meet, we are setting the great spider web atremble. “ — Frederick Buechner
The world is like a great spider web — minus the spider. Or rather, including the spider, as even the tiniest of creatures are card-carrying members of our silky, web-like world. This lacy, cosmic extravagance in which we all find ourselves can be explained with elaborate cosmological or scientific models, but the spider web is all we really need to stir our imagination.
As a theologian, I believe the spider web is the perfect image for understanding process theology, a spiritual path built on the idea of a web-like universe where every small gesture of kindness sets the whole world atremble. The silken threads that connect us are awash with possibility after possibility for tremors of love and beauty to ripple across the universe.
In this great web — so delicate and sensitive and made of divine materials — we find our meaning and purpose. Bathed in such a vast belonging, we move about with care, not only for ourselves, but for every filigreed corner of our intricately woven existence. This precious web, both beautiful and treacherous, needs our attention and our nurture. Most of all, it needs small gestures of kindness.
That is why, during a pandemic, we wear face masks in public. . . MORE
Fear. If you’re feeling it, you’re normal. You’re paying attention. The coronavirus is an invader that has come upon us with great speed and virulence. Like a bull in a china closet, this new invader blithely wrecks our most precious plans, blocks our ability to congregate, and stomps out normal touching and hugging. If that’s not enough, it turns to decimating our economy. This bull is on the loose. We would be crazy not to stand back and tremble.
Fear is not my favorite spiritual companion. But I have to remind myself . . . . More
“We’re happy to announce that ‘Living with Beauty,’ an e-course with Patricia Adams Farmer, begins tomorrow, February 3. This e-course explores how the experience of beauty can enlarge our souls and offer great solace and delight — even as it “lures” us into new ways of thinking, creating, and imagining a better world.” — Spirituality & Practice Team