Earlier this month, the Center for Religion and the Environment (CRE) presented Beauty by Design at St. Mary’s-Sewanee. Robin Gottfried, executive director of CRE, and Sr. Madeleine Mary of the Community of St. Mary led 21 attendees in presentations and reflections.
Sessions included an overview through a video depicting the beauty of God’s creation set to music; a theology of beauty; and the experience of beauty in God’s creation, leading to the recognition of the environmental consequences of failure to appreciate creation.
Sr. Madeleine Mary’s session on the theology of beauty provided the foundation for Gottfried’s “Experience of Beauty.” Participants encountered God’s design on display both outdoors and indoors (through books, icons, nature photography, and other items). A lively discussion ensued around the various interpretations of the images.
In contrast to God’s revelation in the natural order, a video addressed the many environmental consequences our world and society face due to the neglect of beauty. Reactions to this video ranged from shock and disgust at man’s destruction and havoc to compassion for one man’s fight to save his land against overwhelming odds. Gottfried then addressed the economic implications of humankind’s interaction with the beauty of God’s created environment.
The final morning, the group took part in “The Blessing of the Garden,” a sacred space being created for the Retreat Center.
In summary, each participant felt that the lively discussions, fellowship, and especially “seeing” and “listening” to beauty engendered personal spiritual growth and a sense of renewal that energized them to work to steward the beauty of God’s creation in their daily lives and local churches.