Sunday, May 24, 2020

Toward a Theology of Beauty (Aesthetics) in Worship

When I read the descriptions of the ancient Jewish tabernacle, then the descriptions of the later Temple, I have a growing realization of the sensuality of our worship tradition. It is full sights: the fine embroidery in rich colors, the woodwork, the gold inlay, the careful shapes and proportions. It is full of scents: incense, and paneling of sweet-scented wood. It has a feel: water for washing. It has tastes: even then, bread and wine. This is a faith which embraces the world and recognizes its goodness. More than that, it takes the elements of the world and displays them as gems to reveal the creator's goodness. It patterns the earth's elements to reflect a transcendent heaven.

I've always been particularly struck by the description of the lamp stand: gold in the shape of an almond tree or branch, with almond flowers. When lit, I imagine that it looked like a tree of gold with flowers of flame. That is a sight that could have mesmerized, could have coaxed even the hardest soul to believe that there is good in the world, undeniably right before their eyes.

This beauty is not for judging; it is not merely for admiring. Worship is a participation, a self-inclusion in celebrating the eternal beauty. We recognize the presence of God in the beauty of the world.

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