Tenderness and Beauty
Reflections inspired by Simone Weil, AN Whitehead, Gregory of Nyssa,
Pope Francis, and the Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus
Beauty as Proof that Incarnation is Possible
"In everything which gives us the pure authentic feeling of beauty there really is the presence of God. There is as it were an incarnation of God in the world and it is indicated by beauty. The beautiful is the experimental proof that the incarnation is possible." (Simone Weil)
Christians believe that God was incarnate in Jesus. Simone Weil, Gregory of Nyssa, and Alfred North Whitehead believe that God is incarnate in beauty. The Christmas season is a time when Christians celebrate the incarnation of God in the image of a baby lying in a manger, on a silent and holy night, with his mother and father at his side, visited by shepherds and wise men, and surrounded by animals. The historical veracity of the image is irrelevant to the feelings evoked; God is in the feelings. You don't need to be a Christian to understand the feelings or, for that matter, the idea that God is incarnate (enfleshed in the world) in feelings of beauty. It is an idea available to everyone and meaningful to many. For some people beauty is the primary way, and indeed the only way, that they find God: beauty in nature, beauty in art, beauty in music, and beauty in the poignancy of human life, including its fragility. The rest of this page is a collage of reflections -- in words, images, and sounds -- on tenderness and beauty. The music is from an avant-garde Christian group from England: The Revolutionary of Army of the Infant Jesus.
-- Jay McDaniel
The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus
Experimental Christian music
Not to be marketed and promoted
Created without conscious premeditation
The Tender Side of God: Whitehead and Pope Francis
The Galilean origin of Christianity invites a fresh, non-authoritarian way of thinking about God
Ten Ideas, a Song, and a Video
Beauty is the primary aim of life. "Beauty is the one aim which by its very nature is self-justifying." (Alfred North Whitehead)
Beauty is not prettiness. "Beauty is richness of experience in relation to self, other people, the rest of the natural world, and God. Beauty can be difficult and challenging."
Tenderness is one of the most beautiful forms of beauty. Beauty is not separated from goodness. What makes good 'good' is that it is beautiful. Compassion and mercy, social justice and freedom from violence, are among the most beautiful forms of beauty.
Spirituality is connecting threads of beauty. "We are concerned with and believe in the sacred; and think that this is the true nature of the aesthetic...We are looking for the thread that connects every manifestation of beauty, however fragile, transitory, and seemingly accidental." (Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus)
Longing for love is longing for beauty. "One senses something similar at work in Gregory of Nyssa's reflections on the Song of Songs...For Gregory, as for so much of the neo-Platonic tradition, eros is endless. The attractive power of the divine—the beauty of God—knows no bounds. So too is our longing for and enjoyment of God's beauty endless." (Douglas Burton-Christie)
God is Beauty seeking beauty. Whether conceived as a force or a person, a cosmic energy or a cosmic friend, God is present in the world as the indwelling lure for beauty. The One who sends the spirit - whether understood as a force or a person -- is Beauty. Our desire for beauty is Beauty seeking beauty.
The Holy Spirit is the lure toward beauty. "We are searching for, or maybe being guided towards, something that is just beyond understanding and perception. It is meaning or beauty that resonates in a different kind of space; — what was once called the sacred.” (Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus)
Hear my voice and take my hand
Infancy is a form of beauty. Infancy belongs to children as an actuality and adults as a possibility. As a possibility infancy comes from the future, inviting adults to recognize that, even amid tragedy, life can be redeemed and creatively transformed into beauty. Infancy is a gift from God: perpetual reminder of the primacy of tenderness. There is much more to life than tenderness, but not a whit less.
The infant Jesus, understood as an image in the imagination, reveals the tender side of beauty. We do not know what the infant Jesus looked like. As a baby he did all the things babies do and made all the sounds, too: prattling, babbling, and cooing. But it is our image of Jesus that really matters. It is a holy icon in the imagination inviting us to recognize the tender side of beauty. It is a lure for feeling and that is enough.
The infant Jesus belongs to everybody. We do not have to believe in the incarnation literally in order to appreciate the image of the infant Jesus. We do not have to think that Jesus was literally born of a virgin or that he is the only way to God. But we may need to believe that there is something at work in our world, beyond the violence and hatred, which is on the side of all that is tender and mild. We may be Muslim or Jewish, Christian or Buddhist, Confucian or Taoist, Sikh or Jain, Atheist or Faitheist. As we believe in tenderness and act upon our belief, God becomes incarnate in the world.
Music as Sacred Space
interview with Jon Egan of the Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus
“Christianity is a shared position for the RAIJ, and beyond that there are different forms and shades of personal commitment. The shared position is that Christian ideas and experience are a vocabulary for the pursuit and rediscovery of the sacred.
“In particular, we have been influenced by the Orthodox tradition and its understanding of restoration. For the Orthodox, the icon is not a representation of something sacred: it is a sacred object; it’s a fragment of glorified nature, a moment of eternity framed in a finite space.
“The Eastern Churches have always stressed God’s immanence and the active agency of the Holy Spirit. This is an idea that has appealed to us. There is a beautiful quote from the Orthodox writer Kallistos Ware — ‘Man’s purpose is not to dominate and exploit nature, but to hallow and transfigure it.’ This is the perfect imperative for the artist. Our creative methodology, how we go about identifying and collecting the sources and fragments that are part of our compositions — to us this is not about deconstruction: it feels like restoration. We are trying to reassemble and reconnect things in a way that reveals a deeper truth and a more elusive beauty.
“There is no conscious premeditation to this process. We are searching for, or maybe being guided towards, something that is just beyond understanding and perception. It is meaning or beauty that resonates in a different kind of space; — what was once called the sacred.”
-- as interviewed by Reverend John Davies in Church Times, UK
Can Beauty Save the World?
Beauty as an Experience of God
Beauty and Social Justice
Beauty beyond Politics
Beauty and Moral Vision