This is part two of a two part series I gave as a meditative reflection at two recent events. Part one was posted last week.
Last week I began to answer a question asked in Daniel Siedell’s book, God in the Gallery where he asked, “Can one experience Truth aesthetically without knowing Truth cognitively?” I believe a confident “Yes” and “No” can be the answer for this question. I posited that Psalm 19 was a place to start in seeing aesthetic Truth validly experienced by every human being.
Psalm 19 isn’t the only place in the Jewish Bible where a “speaking creation” is mentioned:
Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel.
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.
For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge!
I Chronicles 16
Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord, for he comes,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
This same concept is mentioned in the Christian Scriptures. The day Jesus entered Jerusalem before his crucifixion he is rebuked by the religious leaders because the people were cheering too much. When they ask him to tell them to stop he says, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” In Romans 8 St. Paul points out how the creation is groaning, waiting for the day God judges the earth. So, yes, I believe it is possible to experience aesthetic Truth without knowing it cognitively in a full way.
However, is it possible to fully separate the cognitive from the aesthetic, the “gray matter’s” working from the five senses?
St. Paul in Romans 1 lays out the complex “yes and no” in answer to Siedell’s question:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Here we see how St. Paul seems to say “yes” people see the aesthetic Truth of God’s creation and Him as Creator. But sadly, they suppress it. They know it but choose to forget it, even actively so. The relationship between the senses and the mind seems pretty clear here.
Where would knowledge be without sensual experience? Where would the senses be without any cognitive activity? If you separate the two you risk not seeing either of these Truths fully.
I think this is why there is a tension within the Christian tradition between those who are strong advocates for the proclamation of the message of Jesus and those who prefer a less confrontational approach relying on their life-style to communicate the message. Both sides criticize the other for the apparent weaknesses of their preference without seeming to realize their strengths complement the other. How can you “embody” Jesus’ message without from time to time using vocal chords contained in your body? How can you verbalize the message without the body?
Dorothy Sayers wrote in Mind of the Maker:
The confusion is as though two men were to argue fiercely whether there was a river in a certain district or whether, on the contrary, there was a measurable volume of H2O moving in a particular direction with an ascertainable velocity; neither having any suspicion that they were describing the same phenomenon.
In his book The Celtic Way of Evangelism, George Hunter wrote:
Vincent Donovan, the modern Catholic apostle to the Masai people of East Africa, once observed that Protestant Christian leaders seem to trust only the sense of hearing and therefore rely almost totally upon using the preached and taught Word to reach and teach people. By contrast, he said Celtic Catholics have always known that God can use all the senses to “speak” to people.
If God created the five senses, why wouldn’t He use them as a way to communicate Truth? Siedell lays this out rather clearly when he writes, “The power of art relies on the belief that smelly oils, rough canvas, graphite, and other based materials can provide a profound aesthetic experience.” And I believe this “profound aesthetic experience” has the ability to lead a person to Truth.
I think JK Rowling was onto something when she had her characters suggest the eating of chocolate after an encounter with a Dementor. At the very least the sweet taste of cocoa in your mouth would be the start of recovery from the icy touch of evil.
When you did the exercise I suggested at the beginning of this post was your memory accentuated in any way by the taste of a good thing in your mouth? Did other good memories perhaps fight for attention? I know that from now on most days after my morning shave I will be reminded of my grandfather.
Oh, taste – smell – feel – hear and see that the Lord is good!
 Dorothy Sayers, Mind of the Maker
 George Hunter, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, page 69
 Daniel Siedell, God in the Gallery, page 66