Indeed, it is important to remember that God’s glory underlies all human sublimity. "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory," cries Isaiah (6:3). All beauty is God’s beauty. The province of the Greek word for this exalted state of the Divine Being, doxa, includes English words like "radiance," "glory," and "honor." Hans urs von Balthasar has suggested that the word "glory," reflecting doxa, is a more complete concept of aesthetics than the traditional word "beauty." Often when we use the word "beauty" we tend to restrict our meaning to things that are lovely, sentimental, or merely cute. If we limit the word to those kinds of ideas, we end up relying on other words like "sublime" or "powerful" to describe more intense and disturbing experiences with art or nature. How else to describe the stange mixture of beauty and hardness in section three of Seamus Heaney’s "Viking Dublin: Trail Pieces," a reaction to handling the remains of a long bog-preserved Viking expedition?

Like a long sword
sheathed in its moisting
burial clays,
the keel stuck fast

in the slip of the bank,
its clinker-built hull
spined and plosive
as Dublin.

And now we reach in
for shards of the vertebrae,
the ribs of hurdle,
the mother-wet caches—

and for this trial piece
incised by a child,
a longship, a buoyant
migrant line.

When we think about God's doxa, we reflect not only on his beauty and splendor, but also the honor, reverence, and fear that are due him. Even tragic poems of loss and longing can be glorious. "The fact that God is the ‘horizon’ of every experience of beauty," notes Richard Valadesau, "explains why even tragic emotions can be experienced in art as ‘beautiful’" (149). The particular power of loss can better reveal the imago dei in people and remind us that we are beautiful creatures of God. Dana Gioia writes of the loss of his son in "Pentecost." He speaks of what will not comfort him:

Neither the sorrows of afternoon, waiting in the silent house,
Nor the night no sleep relieves, when memory
Repeats its prosecution

Nor the morning’s ache for dream’s illusion, nor any prayers
Improvised to an unknowable god
Can extinguish the flame.

We are not as we were. Death has been our pentecost, (1-7)

This is great loss, loss that cannot be comforted. Yet it is beautiful. Such a loss is human, understandable, and surprisingly noble. In glory, we not only have a sense of the variety that potentially exists in glory, we also have a deep understanding of the continuum of our responses -- from amusement to peace to joy to awe to fear to loss to ecstasy. Since God is the ultimate source of all aesthetic experience, we better understand that which is beautiful, glorious, sublime, powerful, and awe-inspiring when we better understand the nature of God. This is the case for poetry as well. The glory we experience in a story or a poem reflects the doxa of God. These experiences can not replace our worship, but they can deepen it.

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"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding