I spent some time these past few days at DITA10 (Duke Initiatives in Theology & the Arts) which was an excellent conference. One of the sessions attempted to tackle the question of whether, in this age of scarcity and need, there was just cause to spend so much time, energy, and of course money on art (as the value of anything in this age of the world is reduced to dollars). The question at the conference itself arose from Matthew’s gospel and the account of Jesus’ anointing in Matthew 26:6-10 which reads,
Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.’
But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.'”
The question to which art is always having to give an account is, “Why this waste?”
In another session later in the day however, conference speaker, Malcolm Guite, answered the question quite succinctly when he noted that Matthew 26 is the first and only time the gospels that Jesus says something is “beautiful”.
Well, that settled it for me.
In between the time that the question was posed and Guite’s answer came, a friend and I were stopped short by seeing a hummingbird flit and hover around a lobelia near us. This moment set us up for the answer to come later. As we observed, having already been asked the question, Why this waste? I was asking, of what possible utility or value is a hummingbird? Well, it was a beautiful thing. It turns out it answered quite clearly.
Why should we make room for more beauty?
Why this waste when we have the duty
To be responsible, care for the poor?
Why all this waste when we could do more?
Why all this room in the cosmos above
If space is empty, if it only consists of
Us? Are we the only ones? Nothing more?
Why all this waste? What on earth is space for?
A hummingbird on a tree’s branch sways
In the wind, takes flight, flies up and away
And down, stops to kiss the lobelia blooms;
And Beauty stops me, in my heart makes room.
God wastes not a moment, but to me calls:
For love of you, I have gladly spent all.
© Randall Edwards 2019.
This sonnet is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks
artwork: original linoleum block print by © Randall Edwards 2019.