Beauty and the Cosmos, Continued

Ernesto Cardenal says that we can argue about the reason for the universe and about the meaning of the universe, but not about the beauty of the universe.

A newborn star shoots twin jets of superheated gas out from its rotation axis into space at more than 100,000 miles per hour as a sort of birth announcement to the universe. Image credit: NASA/ESA/STScI

Annie Dillard comments that “unless all ages and races… have been deluded by the same mass hypnotist (who?), there seems to be such a thing as beauty, a grace wholly gratuitous.” We all share beauty. It strikes us indiscriminately. It may be when our child is born into this world, or a simple flower; or a song; or a smile on a face; or a great act of courage; or a dance well done; or a child’s laugh; or a loaf of bread baking; or finding a worthy job; or a snowfall; or laughter between friends; or the death of a loved one returning to his or her Source.

There is no end of beauty for the person who is aware. Even the cracks between the sidewalk contain geometric patterns of amazing beauty. If we take pictures of them and blow up the photographs, we realize we walk on beauty every day, even when things seem ugly around us.

The Navajo people have a prayer that deserves to be sung daily by all of us:

I walk with beauty before me

I walk with beauty behind me

I walk with beauty above me

I walk with beauty below me

I walk with beauty all around me

Your world is so beautiful, Oh God.

Dine Elder sharing wisdom about the Beautiful Way ceremony/prayer. Originally posted to YouTube by Navajo Traditional Teachings.

Pre-modern peoples understood “God as Beauty,” but the modern era threw out the word “Beauty” as a philosophical category much less an ethical one.  In addition to the Navajo prayer above, listen to these other pre-modern thinkers:

Eckhart says: “This then is salvation, to marvel at the beauty of created things….” Aquinas says God is a “fountain of total beauty” and “beauty itself beautifying all things.” Indeed, God who is “supersubstantial beauty, is called beauty because God bestows beauty on all created beings.”

Indigenous Elder praying through traditional dance in Barrow, Alaska. Photo by Zeke Tucker on Unsplash.

Greek Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart observes that beauty “is wholly elusive of definition—it never makes sense to say, ‘This is beautiful because…’—and yet it is inescapable in its force….Beauty is gloriously useless; it has no purpose but itself.”  He cites Kabir who claims that all delight in beauty is adoration of God and Thomas Traherne who encourages us to “recognize creation as the mirror of God’s infinite beauty.”

Nicholas of Cusa calls Wisdom “a supreme and terrible beauty” that can unite people of all religious differences. The Sufi tradition declares: “God is beautiful and God loves beauty.”

To forget beauty is to advance injustice.  Justice heals and is beautiful; injustice is ugly.  Racism turns its back on the beauty of people different from oneself.  Surely, a big part of the eco destruction we call climate change is due to the fact that beauty was lost as a theological and ethical category in the modern era.  Eco-destruction is ugly after all.  Eco protection and restoration is beautiful

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth, pp. 48f

And Matthew Fox, Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God…Including the Unnameable God, pp. 56f.

Banner Image:  “Joyful Sunrise.” Photo by Austin Schmid on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Is Beauty a name for God in your language and thinking and action? 

Recommended Readings

Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth

Fox’s spirituality weds the healing and liberation found in North American Creation Spirituality and in South American Liberation Theology. Creation Spirituality challenges readers of every religious and political persuasion to unite in a new vision through which we learn to honor the earth and the people who inhabit it as the gift of a good and just Creator.
“A watershed theological work that offers a common ground for religious seekers and activists of all stripes.” — Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice.

Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God …Including the Unnameable God

Too often, notions of God have been used as a means to control and to promote a narrow worldview. In Naming the Unnameable, renowned theologian and author Matthew Fox ignites our imaginations by offering a colorful range of Divine Names gathered from scientists and poets and mystics past and present, inviting us to always begin where true spirituality begins: from experience.
“This book is timely, important and admirably brief; it is also open ended—there are always more names to come, and none can exhaust God’s nature.” -Rupert Sheldrake, PhD, author of Science Set Free and The Presence of the Past

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11 thoughts on “Beauty and the Cosmos, Continued”

  1. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    The words that come to the surface through today’s DM are… beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Seeing, being, holding all things is an act of beauty. To really see with the eyes of acceptance, without judgement into someone, something, some moment is beauty. To really be present in relationship with, without projection or pretence to someone, something, some moment is beauty. To really hold one’s hands, heart and mind open, without grasping, without trying to possess someone, something, some moment is beauty. Beholding all as a beloved gift is beauty. Within this beauty way there is a kind of gentle surrender, a sense of letting be and letting go of what was, is and ever shall be… an uninterrupted flow to its rhythmic movements… that pulsates and radiates within… within everyone, everything, every moment. This reality is always there before me, behind me, below me, above me, within me and all around me… to be, lived and walked in the awareness of. This beauty is a dance that we all learn the steps of, through daily life, as we surrender in trust to the Great Spirit of Divine Love, whom leads the way.

  2. Avatar

    I am very ill at ease with accepting the modern shibboleth that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” To me this is an effort to render beauty totally subjective and thus remove beauty as an ethical category and surely as a name for the Divine. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, how is it that we can agree that the universe is beautiful, the earth is beautiful, every being and every human being is beautiful–and that injustice is ugly.

    1. Avatar
      Jeanette Metler

      The word shibboleth in the ancient Hebrew dialect means some say, “stream”. What I was referring to in my comment with regards to the words… beauty is in the eye of the beholder… was in reference to being in the stream of beauty, of the One whom beholds us and the all and the everything of creation… not only with the eye of beauty, but also the eye of unconditional love. This stream of unconditional love and the beauty of this, reigns on both the light and the darkness of humanity… for example bringing justice out of injustice.

  3. Avatar

    “Eckhart says: ‘This then is salvation, to marvel at the beauty of created things….’” It is also, in my mind, how we can see God’s character–if one can use the word “character” in reference to God.

  4. Avatar

    I am definitely going to make that beautiful, meaningful Native American prayer my own! How powerful it is: “From here now, may I walk in Joy, Happiness, Confidence and Peace all around me: before me, behind me, below me, and above me.” Absolutely right on!!!!

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Vivian, Thank you for your comment as always! And I too see the beauty in the Native American prayer that you mention. But for this occasion, I would say it like this: “From here now, may You walk in joy, Happiness, Confidence and Peace all around You, before You, behind You, below You, and above You!”

  5. Avatar

    There can be a “beautiful” painting about “ugly” things….like the many exquisite paintings of The Rape of the Sabine Women. War rape has always been and continues to be a radical injustice. It should be classified as Evil.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Gwen, You speak of the painting: “The Rape of the Sabine Women” as being an example of a beautiful painting of an “ugly” thing. And then you go on to ay that rape in war has always been radical injustice. Are you saying, because we don’t want rape in war we shouldn’t be making paintings of it? People do art for a variety of reasons: for self-expression, as protest and as a way of remembering history, as in the painting you sight. The artist Sue Coe has painted gruesome pictures of the vivisections of animals in protest against the practice. Matthew in this case was trying to show that you can see beauty even in the pattern of the cracks in a sidewalk… I think the the problem here is that you two, are talking about two different reasons for doing art, and two different ways of seeing ugly as beautiful.

      1. Avatar

        I totally agree that the paintings serve a purpose of opening our eyes to the dark side of human history. They show in graphic detail the suffering and chaos associated with injustice. Thank you for your reference to Sue Coe. I wonder if any major art gallery has had an exhibition devoted to artists who expose ‘ugly as beautiful.’

        1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
          Richard Reich-Kuykendall

          Gwen, I don’t know that any major gallery has had an exhibition devoted to artists who expose ugly as beautiful, but I know major galleries exhibit the art of the British painter, Francis Bacon (1909-1992), which looks pretty disturbing to me…

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