//I-Thou-ing into Beauty!
(Life is Beautiful)
Spiritual stages of growth and staying in His seasonal Beauty!
How not to deteriorate Beauty//
I am starting a series of articles on aesthetics and spirituality–how our concepts of beauty relate to spiritual growth and development. At this stage, i’m just getting out some of the raw data. In college i studied comparative religion and art. I am very interested in how beauty relates to spiritual growth–so hopefully, we will discover some things in this process of exploration. Ok, to jump in…
Beauty is amazing, and amazingly hard to explain. What is it that makes something beautiful? I would define beauty something like this: beauty is when something is resonating with its own inner identity in the proper season. So even with art, what is beautiful at the start of an artist’s career, cannot just be reproduced later in their career, and still hold beauty. There needs to be a dynamic growth process which causes the artist to continue to produce seasonally appropriate art. For instance, Bob Dylan is not making the same kind of music he did in his 20’s. That’s a good sign, he is still becoming. There is a lot of pressure to keep your expression in the same season, especially if one of the seasons was successful in the world.
The entertainment spirit, in the art and music world, does this all the time. Ok, this person’s art or business (or you could extend it to ministry) is doing well, let’s freeze it in time, put it in a museum and charge people money to see it–the art gets cut off from true identity, and gets stuck in one season of growth-often the birthing stage-unable to continue to mature; the cultural or collective creative is then detached from core identity, and either floats off or becomes an idol of itself. In the meantime, the active dynamic creative process dries up or self implodes on the artist. In short, you become a prostitutional image of yourself. And that, is not beautiful!
Your ministry or art should keep changing as you grow older, as you are meeting new aspects of God, and yourself. God is dynamic, and we are dynamic–we keep changing, progressing through seasons of life. All of life mirrors this maturation process-from the smallest creature to the highest. For something to be beautiful, it needs to exist in its current season. For it to remain beautiful, it needs to be true to inner identity in each particular season. An old tree is beautiful for being old, not for trying to be young, or to reproduce previous seasons. The beauty of aging is in the collection of so many seasons into one tree.
One of my professors at University, who was a Martin Buber scholar, put it simply: beauty is in the “I” of the beholder–that is, our “I” or inner true self gets actualized by true loving encounter with the other’s (and ultimately God’s) true self. He was speaking less of the location of beauty, and more about what relational atmosphere facilities the occurrence of beauty! God is relational. So beauty occurs in relationship. Even before there were humans, God was a trinity in relationship–a creating and playing and loving relationship between the Trinity. God is relational, and experiences beauty through relationship.
God has also seriously invested His “I” in the relationship with humanity! By sending His Son most overtly as an incarnation of His Thou, He forever “showed up” to the relationship with His Whole Being. He made overt, His Own I Thou intentions toward humanity!
Now on to Martin Buber, my favorite Jewish mystic and art theorist. If we think of his two basic orientations towards other: I-it versus I-Thou, we are also saying that the “thou” in other, continues to grow and change, so i need to engage my growing “I” with the other’s growing, dynamically becoming, thou. In order to not distort myself, i must have an authentic encounter from my true self where it is at on its journey, with the other’s true self, where it is at on its journey. You see this is hard to do with family, because we tend to have projections based on how we knew them in the past. It is hard to allow people to keep growing and dynamic in the present. It is hard to have Victor Frankl’s “courage to be” in each season! And it is difficult to allow others to keep becoming! But each of us has a dynamic thou, for we are “becoming” the sons and daughters of God, and what we are fully has not yet been revealed fully! To have genuine or authentic relationships, we keep allowing a person to be real in the present, we fall in love again with them today. Then, something beautiful enters the space between us!
Buber’s challenge for us was to engage more of our “I” in relation to more of the “thou” of the other, to have meaningful and loving relationships. God is love, and God is the Author of Beauty. We meet Him when in loving relationships with others. This requires us to see them as whole people, dynamically growing. We meet God even in having such meaningful depth relationship with others. This perhaps is the point of marriage-to know God’s love by loving another person over many seasons. The Jews say, we marry the same person at least seven times in one marriage! We have to keep rediscovering them, in other words! And allowing them to be becoming–to develop, to move into new seasons of spiritual growth, and to learn to love them there! In marriage, we must be careful not to stay married to the image of the person when we first met them. We must let them be who they are also in each current season. This funny and true Jewish saying that you have to marry the same person seven times in a marriage makes sense. You have to keep choosing to see them again through God’s Eyes, and love them again in the present. To allow them to be a dynamic “thou” again! We cannot be in love only with the image of the person when we first met them.
Now how this applies to our relationship with God. Well, many people just stick with the God they first met. So He is the Savior, but we never go on to know Him, as the provider, abider, and eventually the Father or Parent and Ruler of all. We never move on to know and love the Father. We don’t become adults, who John commends for knowing God. By which i mean, we keep God in a box. The box is formed based on our first experiences of God–the strongholds of experience, and the static boxes of our imaginations. So if we knew Him first as tender lover saviour, He stays that forever. The problem with this, is we miss out on the rest of who God is! We really make God an “it” constructed from our earlier experiences of Him. And we thereby miss out on spiritual adulthood, and the later stages of spiritual parenthood, which John intimates (I John 2:12-14).
We cannot grow in God, as long as He is an “it”–even an “it image” based on our first encounter with Him. In this sense, we must allow our imagination into the sanctification process in order to grow. We must be able to image God in new ways, if we are to continue and press on into the maturity of The Head, as Paul urges us! Anything which blocks maturation is deadly spiritually. For we are dynamic creatures in love with a dynamically creative God! God is the God of the Living, and He is a Living God–dynamically alive, and calling us into wholeness and greater maturation! Our true task is to be growing into Christ. Spiritual growth is the essence of true Christian spirituality! That is, to be allowing Christ’s actual Life to be forming in us. This is by Grace, but it is also by our partnering and agreeing and seeking more of His Life, in us. Constant formation of the Life of Jesus in us, is what life is. And not being satisfied by our first or second seasons of spiritual growth is essential–we are made hungry again; we thirst again, the dark night returns to cause and allow us to commune once again with the ever Living God. Again, we need to meet and enter the aspect of God which He is trying to place within us in each season. Paul gets frustrated with those in Corinth, for not pressing on into higher levels of spiritual growth. John commends those at each stage of growth, but clearly implies that we are meant to press on into spiritual adulthood. Paul, at times, seems less patient that people get on with getting on into spiritual maturity!
We are dynamic creations serving and in a dynamic God. If we are not growing, it is not God’s fault. Again growth and seasons of development relate to beauty. Something again is beautiful if it is expressing itself in proper season. So do not compete with the young if we are older–we seek to know and resonate in The Father–blessed are you adults, for knowing the Father, John tells us!
The stages of spiritual growth laid out by John are child, teenager and adult (I John). John actually has blessings for each stage of spiritual growth! He does not condemn someone for being in one particular season; but what is implied is that we should be pressing on into our next stage of spiritual development–to go deeper into the One who called us. As we do, we enter a new level of beauty–we continue from glory to glory in Him! The elder is beautiful for being in the eldership of Christ. If the elder was still trying to be a teenager, it would no longer be beautiful. The child is commended for accepting salvation, the teenager for learning to overcome by the word, the father or adult for knowing The Father. Within each of these there are particular ways of meeting God, and particular needs. Paul augments these both in his own biography, and in his fathering the churches. What you see in Paul’s life is someone become a church father, with the heart of God blossoming within him in his later years. You could also look at Paul’s life as a conversion from religion to spirituality! From self effort to Grace of God.
Each of us is in a particular season of growth in God, and we shine in His Beauty when we are in the appropriate one–the one He has us in! Now in order for my I to stay growing, i must keep in an active relationship with God’s Thou. God of course, being the Ultimate Thou!
My point here is to relate beauty to how we relate to one another and God. Something is beautiful when it is allowed to be true to who God made us to be, in our current season of life. So, when a child is a child, it should reflect the child; when a young adult is an young adult it should be overcoming by the word; when a parent becomes a parent, we should put behind us childish ways (not of course the child like spirit which Jesus says is necessary to enter the Kingdom of God! But we should move on to new stages of spiritual development in Him!) Things are beautiful, if they are in their season–being what they are meant to be in each season–looking seasonally appropriate. We cannot return to previous seasons, nor is it beautiful. If we try to stay forever young, If we keep other people or God in a fixed image from the past, we end up distorting ourselves and them, and we lose hope of true intimacy.
The problem with pornographic vision, for instance, is not just that it “objectifies” other-though that is a problem. The true problem is it lies about the nature of Reality! We tell an ontological lie. It says another person is a frozen image for me to use, not a dynamic alive person who God made to adore and be astounded by in reflecting specific aspects of His Nature! It does not allow the other person to be a whole dynamically growing person. We distort one another by seeing the other as an “it” to be used. In truth, we are all creations of God, His Poems, or workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). When we freeze one another for our needs, we distort both ourselves and others. And in looking in this way, we also become less than people. Surely, there are sins of perception!
We are meant to have this depth dynamic I-thou encounter with other people, with creatures, the earth, and ultimately with God Himself. Again, the problem with a pornographic vision, is that there are no thou’s in pornography. People are not allowed to be human, and so we de-humanize ourselves by joining in that type of distorted perceiving. For perception to be true–ie to see one another more from His Eyes, necessitates beauty. If I see truly, His Beauty is there in the midst. This is true of people or my sight of cities and nations. If I see the thou of the other, from my inner “I” in His Eyes, beauty is always present. So true beauty requires us to encounter the inner life or thou of the other. This type of encounter also allows for beauty to be present. And, as it turns out, life is beautiful!
In closing, something is beautiful when it is in dynamic seasonally appropriate relationship with God. When we freeze our images of ourself or others, we deteriorate beauty, and start to see pornographically–this defiles others and ourselves. Wisdom, who is very beautiful, calls out to us to have an ongoing relationship with to the Living God, and in doing so, to allow ourselves and others to be becoming the gorgeous sons and daughters of God. And when we do so, we are partners with God in making Life truly Beautiful in Him.
And lastly, perception itself needs to be in a maturation process so it can behold beauty. There is great healing and power in a matured perception. Receptivity in Him, downloads His Power on earth–ie worship, or making a surrendered bowl for His Being and Kingdom. For, our end, is to see and know, even as we are seen by God and known! Our sight is part of how we mature. To behold in Him, is not weak, but the power to receive His Presence changes history! Mary received the Holy Spirit, and the immaculate conception changed all of history forever. When we worship, we are in the feminine orientation of reception, and we usher in the atmosphere of heaven, which allows all lasting building, carving and partnering on earth. Allowing Him to mature our vision, lets us move towards what we see–“for the vision set before Him, Jesus endured the cross.” And that endurance based on His Sight and Vision, changed the entire universe forever! Don’t underestimate the imagination as a motivating factor in maturation. We need to see in order to move forward. For “My people perish, for lack of vision!” We need to see accurately in order to become, and press on into His Headship.
Even to have a true image of headship or authority, we must have our imaginations illuminated by His Presence. If not, we don’t want to know or incarnate Jesus as Head or Ruler over us. For instance, why would we want to become fathers or mothers, if we have no image of true spiritual parenthood. As Bill Murray said, in the Wes Anderson film, Life Aquadic–“i hate fathers, i never wanted to be one” (even though, in the film, he is one!). If we have no image of non-abusive fatherhood, why would we want to develop into that stage, or sit under one, until we become one? Why would you want to be a co-heir with Christ, if you do not trust rulers? Recently in a city i was visiting, i realized they had no healthy image of authority and parenthood, and a very broken image of motherhood, and a full on marred image of fatherhood. Why would people want to become parents, if they have no true image of parenthood. God must directly give us true healthy images of our next season of spiritual growth for us to desire and go after it. And He will. I do believe that healing can begin in vision–to have a true image of our next, allows us to press through and endure the necessary transformation to enter into the exact season we are meant to be in. When we do so, life is once again, beautiful!
In my generation we resisted images of authority, but we did live our lives authentically. Perhaps that was our generational purpose–to take the things of the Kingdom and repackage them in an authentic expression. So the same content could be encountered without all the modernist and religious obstacles. And yet, we still struggle with a true image of maturation. We avoid marriage, we avoid parenting, we do not want to become elders–this is largely a poverty of imagination! God give us your vision, so we can continue to transform into your seasonally progressive beauty in each season of who you desire us to become. If to be beautiful, is to be in His appropriate season, it requires us to see and be attracted to His True images of the stages of spiritual development–for we are meant to be growing into co-heirs with Our King of Glory–the Author and Perfecter (Completer) of our faith and of our vision! Come Lord, help us see spirit to Spirit, help us to start to be know even as we are known by You! Call us deeper and forwards into Your Being, so that we can reflect each stage of Your Formation in us. Come shine your true Beauty through the entire course of our lives!