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An Appreciation for Art

Finding God in the Arts

An Appreciation for Art
Sunday, August 15, 2021

I’ve always loved beauty and art. When I was on the road and I would have an afternoon off after a conference, I would almost always go to the local art museum. It was a contemplative practice and something I could do by myself. I think artists are often the first to rely on intuition. Artists do not insist on full understanding before they write a piece of music or start painting. They trust the unconscious, and that’s what engineers and scientists aren’t primarily trained to do. They only proceed by evidence. I’m grateful that my doctors proceed with logic, evidence, and reason; yet in my experience, it is the artist, like the mystic, who intuits Reality first.

Jesus’ primary metaphor for Reality or the Eternal Now is “the reign of God.” He is trying to tell us that there is a place where we can live connected to the Real and to the Eternal. That place is simply the here-and-now, which always feels like nothing, like “nowhere” (now-here), and is where everything always happens!

The reason we can trust the Now so much is because of the Incarnation and the Divine Indwelling. The sixteenth question in the old Baltimore Catechism was “Where is God?” and it was answered straightforwardly: “God is everywhere.” We cannot not be in the presence of God! Where would we go? As the psalmist says, if we go up to the heavens or underneath the earth, we still can’t get away from God (see Psalm 139:7–10).

The early Church theologians saw incarnation and divine indwelling as occurring as a metaphysical union with nature as a whole, not just in one human being (Jesus). John Duns Scotus (1266–1308), one of the great Franciscan teachers, said that God did not create genus and species; God only created what Duns Scotus called “thisness” (in Latin haecceity). Each creature is a unique aspect of the infinite Mystery of God. He said that until we can experience each thing in its specific “thisness,” as artists so often do, we will not easily experience the joy and freedom of Divine Presence.

The doctrine of “thisness” is saying that we come to universal meaning deeply and rightly through the concrete, the specific, and the ordinary. We cannot know something spiritually by saying it is a not-that; we can only know it by meeting it in its precise and irreplaceable thisness and honoring it there. This week’s meditations on “Finding God in the Arts” seek to do just that. The principle here is “go deep in any one place and you will meet all places.” God is here, and everywhere!

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spring Within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (CAC Publishing: 2016), 314–315;

Just This (CAC Publishing: 2017), 30–31; and

“The Practice of Awe and Wonder,” Another Name for Every Thing, season 3,
episode 10, April 25, 2020 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), audio podcast.

Story from Our Community:
There is an old oak tree near my home. I was so taken with it that I commissioned an artist from our parish to paint it. I have since moved, but the painting still hangs in my house. I tell anyone I show it to that when looking at it, I see God’s strength. I gaze at it often. —Carmela A.

Image Credit: Arthur Greenberg, In a Field (detail), 1973, photograph, Illinois, National Archives.
Image Inspiration: The texture of this image inspires us to know this grass better by running our hands through and allowing it to tickle our fingertips. Likewise, when we create art, we experience an embodied knowing of God.
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