The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Against Aesthetic Radicalism

…There is so much beauty in music, in dance, in art, in drama; so much human beauty that nearly touches the divine. But the key is: nearly! Nearly! How hollow and fragile human beauty is! The beauty of singing, the beauty of movement, the beauty of a note from a violin, of a face of a young woman… fragile like a Ming vase! Like a multi-colored explosion of fireworks, it appears out of the darkness of mundane life, expands in many directions, seizes dominion of the sky, robs you of your breath and life itself, and takes you out of yourself and into its light. But then, nothing. Gone. Smoke and once again, darkness. How fragile!

-May 17th, 2004

I wrote these lines over three years ago, and reading them now I feel as if they were written by a different person. I suppose a lot has happened between then and now, but I do not know if I am any wiser, experienced, or anything else. I am certainly not any holier…

If I am anything now, I am much more skeptical of what such terms as eternity, transcendence, or detachment mean. Maybe it is my own wounded pride that cannot accept a failure of a dream. Or maybe it is the blindness of the world, its occupations and endless bustle that drown out the appeal of Christian ascetical virtue. But now I am different, and perhaps a chamber of my heart has been closed. It’s a lot noisier in there now.

Then again, it may have nothing to do with the heart. It might have everything to do with having to take the longer road home. It might have to do with no longer lying to myself about the essence of life. As I have said before, there is so much artificiality in religion today precisely because it is no longer seen as anything to do with real life. We can be tempted to immerse even our Faith in a Technicolor dream, where everything is far more romanticized and simpler than it really is. It may not be a matter of us being sinners or saints. It may be a matter of us simply being real. And if we refuse to immerse ourselves in this reality, we do damage to ourselves, and thus we do damage to the Gospel.

I thought about these confusing lines as I sat with AG in a chamber concert of works by Schumann and Glinka. I remembered what I had written before I had gone off into the desert to spiritually die at the age of 24. I remembered the lofty dreams that I had of being a hermit in the desert, a great staretz, to love without images or mediation. There is a great din in my soul now, it is the din of having to worry about what all of you worry about, it is the din of having a future, having a life, trying to cope with the uncertainty of love that normal people cope with.

But at that one moment, during the piano quartet, I looked over at AG, and I touched its face again. Its Face, His Face. It may be a poor image of what real beauty is, but real happiness consists in the knowledge of one’s own poverty. Instead of ecstasies, insights, and elevations into the heights, perhaps what we really want is a good meal, a warm bed, and a sweet embrace to wake with us every morning. And to be thankful for all of it, the glass of milk, the creaking door, and the smile…


At 1:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: "When Christ calls a man, He calls him to die". This is true, in the end, whether that man is called to the desert of the hermitage or the desert of married life.

Conversely, as St. John of the Cross notes, any call to "come and follow" is initially accompanied by many delights and "consolations"; however, there is no genuine call from God that does not take us, sooner or later, directly through the cross. Christ's fate is our fate if we are truly His friends and servants.

At 9:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try the music of

The 7 million Ukrainians that Stalin killed could be a Cross and a Dark Night of many Souls


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