I've been reading Liturgy and The Arts by Albert Rouet. It's an interesting little book. Rouet is a Catholic bishop who has a rather objective view of the development and constant redevelopment of the Catholic liturgy in the 20th century (The book was published in 1997). He's done a fair job at not picking sides. That's good news. Instead, he focuses on the relationship between "the arts" and "liturgy."
Rouet suggests that many of us are living under the false assumption that faith and art are after the same thing. We recall a time when (in the Christian west) the Church was a faithful sponsor of the arts. Much "high art" was composed for and sponsored by the Church. Somewhere along the line, however, that relationship fell apart. Blame it on the advent of the secular state or scientistic thinking. Blame it on what you want to, but the relationship is not what it was. He cites three reasons:
The arts and the liturgy are in competition relative to the sacred. Call it the "numinous" or frame it in the Spiritual But Not Religious conversation, the boundaries around sacredness are drawn differently by the arts and the Church.
Liturgy and the arts disagree about the meaning of freedom. The former proclaims that freedom is found only in Christ. The latter has a much broader definition of freedom (of course).
The arts and liturgy are in conflict with respect to symbols. The latter has a rather static understanding of symbols, or at least a confessed interpetation that is navigated in all the manifest plurality of a community. The former's relationship to symbols reflects the autonomy of the artists engaging and creating the symbols. This is not news, but it is interesting no less.
In a recent Twitter conversation, a few of us were debating about the prophetic role of artists. I had posted about the newly released Dave Matthews Band tune, "Mercy." In the post I suggested that the new "great preachers" may actually be musicians, singers like Bono, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, and Dave Matthews. They touch the soul of the Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR). Though mega-church pastors may have a broad audience as well, they are often preaching within the community. The musicians, arguably, have a broader appeal. In the thread, we discussed whether or not the Church is an ally or an adversary to such proclamation.
"It depends." Yeah. It's complicated, but there we were...having that conversation. Where Rouet might be helpful is to remind us that it is possible that there are competing definitions of beauty. How might you define beauty? What is beautiful? I would love to read your thoughts.
In the Bible beauty is an ambiguous reality. It can either evoke the glory of God or represent a trap in which the journey forward becomes bogged down. Beauty is only revealed in the course of an exodus or journey. This is because beauty is transfiguration through which human beings become icons of the glory of God.
And all of us, with unveiled faces,
seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror,
are being transformed into the same image
from one degree of glory to another;
for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:18)