Intersections and Balance
Divine revelation and beauty have a deeply intertwined relationship. Given that divine revelation in itself is an expression of God’s beautiful love for us, this may seem obvious, but reversing the directionality from divine revelation as an expression of beauty to beauty as an expression of divine revelation leads to much more fruitful inspection. This is especially true when viewed through a cultural lens, as differing cultures express beauty in different ways, therefore approaching divine revelation from unique angles. Alejandro Garcia-Rivera acknowledges these differences in approach being tied into cultural identity in his work, The Community of the Beautiful, as considers culture not so much as a language, but as an aesthetic.
This aesthetic, especially in the art of Latin Americans and black slaves, approaches God and Jesus from a much different angle than that of Europeans and Hans urs von Balthasar. It embraces the suffering revealed through Christ, as the art produced by their groups comes from a much different cultural identity than that of Europeans. For example, the art of black slaves expressed through spirituals is a different notion of beauty from the European because this notion is much more informed by suffering and oppression. For black slaves, writes James H. Cone in the Spirituals and the Blues, Jesus is more closely connected to them for they can see His suffering self in their own plight. They could see the side of divine revelation and beauty as the presence of God through their suffering because if Jesus was not alone in his suffering, especially because he suffered not in a docetic sense but actually felt pain as a mortal, then they were not alone in theirs.
Similarly, Latin American culture and its art, especially in Mexico, incorporates the revelation of Christ through his suffering. Here, the beautiful ‘half-breed’ image of Our Lady of Guadalupe juxtaposed by the atrocities committed by European conquerors on the indigenous people, especially women, serves to change their notion of beauty by casting it as a light shining through the darkest darkness. In Mexico, a significant part of cultural identity harkens back to this abuse by the conquistadors and a headlong embrace of their being taken advantage of, loosely encompassed in the term, ‘La Chingada.’ This is far from a perfect definition of the concept, which carries much more intricacy in its meaning, but the general idea of the differing notions of beauty and their root in the formation of cultural identity is evident, especially when compared to the European art and ways of examining its beauty that have no such foundation in this kind of suffering.
Recognizing this beauty itself depends on a balance between the physical and spiritual senses. Here, the physical and spiritual senses help to inform each other, as we can experience something in the physical sense, like the example of hitting a piñata from the conversion techniques of missionaries in Latin America. To overcome language barriers and potential loss of meaning through translation of prior church dogmas, a piñata was used to represent the devil and when indigenous people hit it, they were ‘fighting’ his evil. Eventually, the piñata was used for other purposes, like to demonstrate the good inside when the piñata was filled with candy. At least, this is what we’re told in The Community of the Beautiful. Either way, this practice symbolized the balance between the physical and spiritual senses, albeit in a seemingly mundane way. The physical actions taken by the person interacting with the piñata informed their spiritual senses and they grew to better know the beauty of divine revelation in that way.
Finding a balance in these senses is a fine way to find beauty, but beyond this, we are called to be beautiful in our own communities too. The most apt approach for this is found in Roberto Goizuetas’ reconciliation of ideas of praxis from Jose Vasconcelos in Caminemos con Jesus. Goizueta speaks of an intersection between aesthetics, ethics, and politics, as he writes, “The aesthetic dimension of human action is mediated by the ethical-political; it is encountered and lived out within ethical-political action, as the deepest meaning and significance of the ethical political. The aesthetic is not a final stage beyond the ethical, but the fullest sense of the ethical” (Goizueta 128). This intersection between the three ideas is an excellent example of how we can strive to find beauty in our own actions and praxis, without even sacrificing any of those three ideals. If we can become beautiful in this way, finding this intersection between aesthetics, ethics, and politics, then we can live in a better understanding of divine revelation and its own beauty for ourselves.