Thursday, March 17, 2011

Beauty by Design

It is a beautiful St. Patrick's Day and my sister Jennie's birthday, so I have just gone outside to sit in the warm sun and take a break from my painting.  I'm thinking about the  Beauty by Design retreat that Mary-Louise and I were part of, a couple of weeks ago, at St. Mary's Sewanee in Tennessee.  We undertook an exercise where we selected an object of beauty to reflect upon for an hour.  I selected the lichen which was glowing brightly from the rain saturated late winter trees outside.  (And I was not the only one, at least three other participants also chose lichen.) It made me realize that what I am concerned with is mostly on the surface; there are layers and layers of beauty. I considered the mountain (the Cumberland Plateau) that we were all appreciating and how it must have been a very violent event when The Mountain formed. The earth is alive, and not just on the surface, but to its very core.  So, I was reminded of this once again last Friday, when the 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit Japan and then the terrible tsunami washed away everything in its path, without regard for human feelings. It makes me feel very humble as a human being.  There is only so much we can control.
    But this retreat was, in part, about what we can control.  We can control the work of our hands.  We began by considering the theology of beauty.  This was very exciting for me.  What does God love?  This was a Christian-based retreat, which I appreciated because, frankly, it seems to me that the Christian faith is rather weak in its concern for the earth. So, it was good to hear an argument for Christian concern for our planet (the Psalms are filled with beautiful praise of the earth and universe). But you could also ask, what does nature love?  We considered  that God/nature loves: order, interdependence, harmony, unity and diversity. We are naturally attracted to the beauty of truth and goodness; and here it was pointed out that theologians and scientists are equally concerned with this beauty of truth.This certainly rang true for me, as I have often heard my mathematician husband speak of elegant proofs. Further, justice is beauty. Well, that struck me. On January 8th, when I wrote my "Seeing Beauty" blog, I was struggling to put words to how appreciating beauty prevented injustice; but here it was stated clearly: beauty is justice.  So we discussed these elements of beauty and how they were "made flesh" through structure, design, form, movement, music, poetry and matter. 
    In the afternoon, we considered how we can apply principles of beauty to what we make as human beings. Here are some of the design principles we talked about:
Design should reflect and incorporate:
  * love of diversity
  * interdependence and interconnectedness
  * love and respect for all members of the community
  * co-operation with the natural order
  * no waste
We can apply these elements to everything we create so that we can proclaim a gospel with the work of our hands that is in alignment with the world in which we live.  This can make a difference in how we live in the world. It was pointed out that we alter the world just by living in it; and perfection is not possible. Some things we can not affect, like the movement of tectonic plates. But humbly doing the work of compassionate human beings is sufficient.

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