These are some brief notes related to my October 12 sermon, part of our series on the “Seven Values” that guide us as a church.
Mennonites have historically had a complicated relationship with “beauty.” On the one hand, we have often disdained many forms of beauty, focusing instead on simplicity and practicality. On the other hand, we have a heritage of creating and appreciating beauty through simple and practical things.
To be sure, we are right to be skeptical of “beauty.” Our culture has too often equated “beauty” with physical beauty, and then created idealized and sexualized physical forms of beauty that are entirely unrealistic or even harmful. Or, we have reduced “beauty” to kitsch, “fast food art” that lacks the scope and depth and nuance to sustain a meaningful human existence for a lifetime or over generations.
Is there a better way forward? Is there a way for us to uphold a proper conception of “beauty”? Is there a good and true way for us to “value beauty”?
God as Creator is the master artist who has created the masterpiece of beauty: the cosmos. All things have been created by God and pronounced “good” (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, etc.). This is an aesthetic judgment, not a moral one, meaning that everything God has created is “pleasing” or “fitting,” even “beautiful.”
This suggests that beauty is a value near to God’s heart. God is not simply interested in truth and goodness, but also in beauty. And this beauty expressed in creation, while often simple and practical, can also be lavishly ornate and utterly impractical, serving no apparent purpose other than to evoke a sense of pleasure in its beholder, a sense of the transcendent.
God in Christ shows us beauty in the flesh. It’s the beauty of Jesus’ parables: elegant stories of real-life realities, pointing beyond to something more. It’s the beauty of Jesus’ anointing by Mary of Bethany: extravagant textures and fragrances, dignifying human suffering and exalting God in one costly act.
It’s the beauty of Jesus’ Last Supper: ancient rituals transformed by new expressions of love and faithfulness, signifying shalom in the midst of human brokenness. It’s the beauty of Jesus and his disciples singing psalms on the way to Gethsemane: songs of fear and despair and anger alongside songs of faith and hope and love.
It’s the beauty of the cross: the starkness of evil and death planted squarely in the midst of the ordinary and the everyday. It’s the beauty of the empty tomb: the surprise of life and infinite eternity bursting out from the midst of death.
God as Creator and God in Christ together suggest that beauty that is true and good is a beauty that ennobles humanity and esteems creation and in so doing honours God, even as it gives us a realistic picture of the human condition in all its shame and dignity, all its sadness and joy, all its fear and hope.
We are created in the image of the Creator to create and discern this beauty. And we follow in the footsteps of the crucified and risen Jesus, incarnating this beauty in the world.
At Morden Mennonite Church we value beauty. We embrace the arts, expressing and exploring our faith through diverse forms of music, visual and tactile art, drama, dance, poetry and stories. We encourage growth and authenticity in this expression, providing opportunity for any who wish to explore their faith through art.