Ex Nihilo. But why?

Today’s readings:

  • Genesis 1:1-19
  • Mark 6:53-56

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE.

Earth was still an empty waste, and darkness hung over the deep; but already, over its waters, stirred the breath of God.
Genesis 1:2 (Knox)

It’s quite a la mode to not dress up for anything except irony. I shall put on a bowtie for my trip to the grocer. I shall wear this thrift store tuxedo for the office Christmas party. (Ugly sweaters are part of this, although wearing them as a theme is a different matter.) Dressing for dinner at home never happens. Dressing up for dinner out nearly never happens. I’m a jeans and a time sorta guy you know. Very laid back. And who dresses up for Church anymore?

I am, of course, writing in one hella laid back part of the world. In San Francisco people wear flip-flops and shorts to the symphony. But seriously, even in my homeland of Dixie dressing up for Church just doesn’t happen. I’ve seen sweats and shorts, flip-flops, string tops, short skirts, torn jeans… Whatever works. Among the Orthodox in the mountains of North Carolina, I’ve seen the full spectrum of clothes at Church, but ties were rare. Long dresses were common but they were almost always shapeless sacks (the Ortho-Burqa Fr J called it) and never anything you’d call beautiful.

That last word is important: I’m not talking about fashion or cost. I’m talking beauty. I’m not talking about immodesty nor about wealth. I know, too, all the reasons God doesn’t *need* you to dress up. God loves you just as you are. You don’t need to show off in front of anyone. You are not there to brag about how much money you make. You feel self-conscious. You need to blend in. You can’t waste the time.

This week (5th week of Ordinary Time in Year 1) we are reading the story of the Creation and the Fall as the first lessons at Mass. Today and tomorrow we get the 6 days of creation. I don’t care which myth of origins you buy into, the traditional one or the more recent one, but as a Christian you have to believe that all of this – no matter how it got here – came from God. There is no other valid Christian belief. Regardless of how he did it, you have to admit it should beautiful. It’s not some “mysterious inner beauty” either: it’s lavish, luscious, almost entirely erotic beauty right on the surface. It is stunning. It is breathtaking. You might say it is so commonplace as to be not beautiful at all, but it is *so* beautiful that it never wears out.

God did this for no other reason than to put us in the middle of it and to surprise us with it at every turn. We are loved – see how beautiful the universe is, how vast, how mysterious. Can you imagine? The entire thing (at least from our POV) is there to be awe-inspiringly beautiful, for us to see that beauty and bring us to God.

Have you even seen how beautiful we are? Every last one of us. And again, I don’t mean some bizarre inner beauty. Get off that Gnostic crap. Even when we are broken, it’s shining there on the surface, maybe covered in scars, maybe disfigured. But tell me the Venus de Milo is not beautiful. Stop what you are doing right now, look up and look around. Can you know that everyone you are seeing right now is beautiful? Can you walk through your day knowing that? Can you make it without crying?

How, then, can your worship of the God who made all this beauty for you not ask of you some sacrifice of beauty in return? The Divine Liturgy, the Holy Mass, is not a show. You are not there to watch the gloriously-clad ministers go through their complex gavotte while you recline in your torn jeans before the game or brunch of a Sunday. If you make it to Daily Mass, of course you appear as you would also at work. But Sunday, at least, can you not add rather than detract from the beauty of Liturgy?

Can we not tell the difference between the t-shirt and yoga pants of today’s “liberated” woman as paralleled with the Ortho-burqa sacks, both on the one hand, and the plain, simple, and beautiful lines of an Amish Church Dress or a woman’s dress suit, on the other? Men’s clothes can be likewise divided between “modern trashy/modern ugly” and “Something simple and beautiful.” Imagine seeing a conscious adding of beauty as we come to church rather than a sloppy “Look, be happy I made it.”

Following on yesterday’s text, this is also why we cannot sexually, fiscally, or politically objectify people. We cannot turn people into things (objects) to be used by us or for our ends. Beauty, all beauty like all truth and all good, is there to lead us to God the Creator of all beauty. All of Creation has been made out of the nothingness that was into the somethingness that is. And all of it, from tarpits to that grumpy person at the starbucks counter is so amazingly beautiful.

Shouldn’t we dress up for this party?

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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