Sunday, June 13, 2010

Repentance and Beauty

Everything is beautiful in a person when he turns toward God, and everything is ugly when it is turned away from God.
- Fr. Pavel Florensky

The quote above has had, for some reason, a significant impact on my life. I read it only recently on Father Stephen’s blog Glory to God for All Things and somehow it brought a new element of lightness and joy into my life. It made the idea of repentance as turning towards God and the idea of God as light much clearer to me. It is funny how sometimes the most esoteric statements can be the most helpful.

Now I have started to wonder whether the statement works in reverse: whether all that is beautiful in a person is turned towards God. Some Christian apologetics seem to believe so. In his book Orthodoxy G.K. Chesterton describes all good and pleasurable things in this world as treasures rescued from the shipwreck that was the Fall. In C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle, the last novel in the Narnia series, Aslan tells Emeth that all the service he had done to Tash, Aslan accounts as service done to himself.

I’ve been testing this against situations I encounter and so far the theory has held water. In some mysterious way it seems to explain how the same action in one situation is “righteous” and “unrighteous” in another. A few examples regarding fasting:

• Fasting on Holy Friday is a beautiful act of compassion and participation. Feasting on Pascha is a beautiful act of celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. Feasting on Holy Friday – not so beautiful. Fasting on Pascha – not so beautiful (at least in my opinion, and if I read my Bible correctly, not in Christ’s opinion either).

• Fasting as a sign of obedience and respect – a beautiful act. Fasting with a “holier than though attitude” – not so beautiful.

• Breaking the fast even if you desire to keep it to accommodate a visitor on the Atkins diet – a beautiful act? Inviting you Atkins-following friend always on Fridays so that you have an excuse not to fast-not so beautiful.

Seems to work here? How about other areas of life, attending services for example?

• If a parent skips services to attend to his or her child (or spouse, or parent, or neighbor…) who needs attention, I see that as a beautiful act of parenthood and could see that being turning simultaneously towards God and your neighbor. Always skipping services even to stay home with your family, irrespective of what the surrounding situation is – not so beautiful.

I still need to do more thinking about this, but this interpretation would seems shed light to the grey areas in our lives where we ,actually do spend most of our time. It might also give guidance on how to put into action St. Paul’s words about the lawfulness and profitability of things.

All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. - 1 Corinthians 6:12

Do I find this compelling because I find it easier to recognize what is beautiful rather than what is “right”? Or that, ultimately, it is more important that an act is beautiful rather than right or just in our eyes?

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