In an analysis of the creative process Michael Polanyi finds that art, science, and indeed spirituality, arise from the depths of the self with a kind of autonomy and otherness, and are marked with a sense of the wholeness and beauty of what is accomplished.
It is from this sense of the aesthetically suitable that much in science and especially mathematics is determined. “Elegance” is a criterion for mathematical and physical theories which has considerable bearing on their acceptability to professionals.
And, of course, the sense of beauty plays a large part in sexual attraction. This is clearly witnessed in one book of the Bible which is an interchange of song between lovers, “The Song of Songs”:
As an apricot among the forest trees,
so is my beloved among boys;
to sit in his shadow is my delight,
and he is sweet to my taste:
he took me to the wine garden
and offered his loving eyes.
He refreshed me with raisins,
he revived me with apricots,
for I was faint with love;
his left arm was under my head,
his right arm was around me:
my beloved is mine and I am his,
in the lilies he delights;
while the day is done and the shadows disperse,
turn, my beloved, and show yourself:
a gazelle or a young wild goat
on the hills where the cinnamon grows.
Under apricot trees I roused you,
there where your mother was in labour with you,
there where she who bore you was in labour:
wear me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
passion cruel as the grave;
it blazes up like blazing fire,
fiercer than any flame.
Many waters cannot quench love:
if a man were to offer for love
the whole wealth of his house
it would be scorned.
The story of the Lover and the Beloved is the story of God and God’s people - indeed God’s creation, the passion underlying the whole story of the Covenants, the old covenant with humankind and Israel, and the new covenant sealed by Jesus in his Passion, his emptied-out loss and return. We, who are connected with the selves of others in living systems larger than ourselves, may move beyond our own selves by transformation, and all within the gift of the greater Being “felt to be there to start with, waiting to be apprehended.”(Michael Polanyi)
As to worship, science directs us to the example of the Bower-bird. Why does the male bower bird make its elaborate building, and assemble its fancy baubles, including whitened bones, round stones, pieces of shining or coloured glass, to attract its mate? For the same reason that we, as worshipers, dress up our sacraments with clothing and beauty, buildings and old bones, all our treasures, to please the One we love. And we have an excellent precedent: the One we love has dressed up a whole universe of external beauty and internal elegance, of fantastical colours for courtship and reproduction and feeding, devices and desires, of the strange images of geometry, the Mandelbrot set and the Fibonacci sequence, to win us to love and courtship.
It is no wonder then, that in worship, including not only language, singing, architecture and decor, but also dance and drama, beauty is a strong feature to be satisfied elegantly to increase the power of worship.
And at the centre of all the beauty and the exchanges of love, that One has put the “blood” and self-emptying of His/Her/Its own self, to validate the whole process.