Truth in Beautiful Spaces: from CC

When I was in college and moving in non-denomination and similar evangelical circles, there were many
factors that motivated me to explore deeper the more traditional and sacramental ways of being Christian that led me to spend lots of time around an Anglican Church and ultimately to connect with a rather traditional Methodist Church with lots of ministry opportunities.
Some were theological factors that had a lot to do with my discovering more of the Bible (especially the sacramental passages that had been largely ignored by my Baptist and non-denominational teachers) and also reading authors like C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther, and John Wesley.

Some were what we might call "spirituality" reasons - a desire for more "roots," mystery, and especially beauty in my Christian experience.  I remember expressing this desire for beauty once in a conversation with a like-minded friend about our discovering the prayers in The Book of Common Prayer (many of which are also to be found in The United Methodist Hymnal and The United Methodist Book of Worship): If I can, with equal sincerity, say a prayer that is beautiful and elegant or one that is less so, surely it gives more honor to God to say the more beautiful prayer.  After all, he is the Creator of much that is beautiful, and beauty evidently delights him.

We could apply the same logic (and the Christian Church traditionally has done) to the worship spaces in which we meet.  Assuming that we can worship God in a big-box or in a gothic cathedral with equal sincerity and fervor, then would it not be preferable (all other things being equal) to have a more beautiful structure that makes a rich statement about our God and our faith to all who not only enter in, but even those who simply pass by?  (Of course, for practical reasons and financial reasons this is not always possible; all things are not equal; we cannot all afford to build Westminster Abbey, and even if we could there might well be other higher priorities requiring faithful attention.)

One of my attractions (back) to Methodism was that while many Methodists seemed to believe the Bible just as seriously as my non-denominational friends, yet they evidently (based on their church-houses and church-services) had a much greater appreciation for beauty and the kind of cultural achievements (in music, literature, architecture, stained glass, sacred-vessel making, and so on) that delight the human soul the way that God himself delights in the beauties he has made.

This struck me as somehow deeply true to what Man is as the Imago Dei, though even as I write, it is difficult to convey in words or rational argument.  It is the kind of thing that you feel or sense, the kind of thing that is best communicated in symbol, perhaps.  We not only proclaim with words the life-giving truth of our faith, we also seek ways to embody, to incarnate, it as well - embody it first and foremost in how we live, and also in our own acts of creating (creating music, creating art, creating poetry, creating architecture). 

I got to thinking about all of this after reading this (relatively short) piece at The Christian Century: Truth in Beautiful Spaces.

Pictured above is Christ Church, United Methodist - New York City.

You can click here to look at a few of United Methodism's beautiful spaces - but there are in fact hundreds more both large and small. 

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