I recently reread Norman Pittenger’s The Lure of Divine Love, a book I first picked-up more than 30 years ago. It’s an accessible and winsome reflection on “process theology,” but the joy of savoring it again had as much to with his style and perspective as with his ideas.
I revisit writers like Pittenger, Annie Dillard, Wendell Berry, and Flannery O’Connor for a language tune-up. Lately, I’ve dipped back into Dillard’s The Writing Life, Berry’s Standing by Words, and, for my bioethics class, a couple of his early agrarian essays, and O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners.
Writers like these see realities which hide in plain sight, hear music, glad and mournful, which sounds from the heart of life, and feel all creation’s striving to be free and whole. They see clearly, hear truly, and feel deeply; share a conviction that words, fragile and broken though they are, can carry and convey meaning; and work to make their writing beautiful. In these ways, they help to recalibrate my misfiring and sputtering language.
When I say that their writing is beautiful, I don’t mean conventionally pretty or self-consciously ornate or necessarily pleasant. I mean that they write in ways that make present again (represent) the essential goodness of things, a goodness which grind, grime, and grotesqueness do not finally destroy.
Their writing is also beautiful because it is sensual and sacramental; they invite us to remember that all our experience is irreducibly mediated by sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.
Beauty draws us by our hungering and hoping, by our dreaming and desiring. It corresponds and responds to our restlessness for ecstasy and joy, to our longing to lose ourselves in another and Another.
Bread and wine are body and blood, life and salvation. Water is source and sustenance, birth and baptism. Wind is spirit, sweeping across our chaos and stirring re-creation. Breath, too, is spirit, both respiration and inspiration.
Beauty flickers insistently in the dark and cold, luring and leading us home. It enchants, attracts, and charms, awakening our sense of adventure and calling us to a pilgrimage toward wonder. Beauty calls us to risk, and in risking to learn to trust, that mystery’s heart is sweet mercy, great gladness, and dancing love.
I cherish beauty-in-words which opens me to beauty-beyond-words.
And I’m grateful for the makers—poets—of beauty who re-tune my sluggish mind and spirit, who “tune my heart to sing God’s grace.”