STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 12/06/2013

What Is Beauty?


Each year STILLPOINT and the Jerusalem and Athens Forum (JAF) sponsor an essay contest open to all students in the program. This year’s theme, “What is beauty?”, was also explored in this year’s student Symposium.

JAF writers drew on their own experiences as well as authors as varied as Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, Dante, De Toqueville, Tolstoy, T. S. Eliot, and Josef Pieper.

Matthew Reese ’14 wrote the winning entry, “For This We Have Been Made,” which appears below. Scroll down to read excerpts from the honorable mention essays by Jaime DiBernardo ’14 and Ian Isaac ’15; links to the full text follow.

For This We Have Been Made
By Matthew Reese
If you know me, you might have heard me say that I go to church for the Eucharist, and go dancing to worship. Few other things synthesize the individual’s glorious expression of heart, soul, mind, and strength with the relationships of community, as you dance from partner to partner, delighting God with the way your body moves in holy grace, the way your spirit soars, the way that the room disappears and you marvel at the movement of others indiscriminate of appearance, intelligence, age, or gender.
To casually say that Christianity is beautiful demeans both the religion and the word beautiful. The narrative in the Bible reads like a love story, but we have lost clarity of the word beauty, and consequently should not use it carelessly. Too easily we fall into patterns of joyless duty: duty that is a good thing, but a lesser one than beauty. God made us in His image, and His image is that of a dancer. We were made to dance through life.

This past April, I found myself in a Contra dance with a woman in a wheelchair. As we approached one another, I frantically wondered how on earth I was supposed to swing a partner in a wheelchair. Deciding to just attempt the action as I normally would, we started to swing. It was one of the smoothest motions I have ever experienced, for her mobility surpassed that of most people on any dance floor I have known. Once my incredulity at her prowess subsided, I mused on the various forms dancing can take.

To dance means to worship, and vice versa. Dancing encompasses every facet of the human experience. We love and hate, weep and rejoice, struggle and flourish, all on the dance floor. Anyone can dance. Some possess greater technical ability than others, but anyone who lives can emit life. Yet we should not confine “life” to only include joy. So many of the Psalms express lamentations or imprecations. Life includes these things even as worship includes more than just singing on Sunday morning. Worship lacks wholeness if it does not include the many areas of life.

The word shalom that Christians fling about so much connotes a wholesome peace. Surpassing a mere lack of conflict, shalom means a rightness that we hope for, but that should also be sought by the individual. Josef Pieper’s book, Leisure, the Basis of Culture, describes an inner peace he defines as “leisure,” a present state of the soul in which we do daily activities for the value of doing them.

Worship ought to be danced in this manner. We worship in the slightest daily occurrence. I try to dance when I make coffee each morning just as I dance when I shout “Alleluia” during Easter. Christianity encompasses vast, wonderful theological truths about God and His love for humanity, but it primarily is a dance within the Trinity and between its person(s)hood and us. We are made to be dancers in worshipful, manifested beauty.

Matthew Reese is a Pike major in political philosophy from Knoxville, Tennessee.


Beauty Transcends Logic
By Jaimie DiBernardo

It’s something I can’t quite understand in the velvet sky, the dish of blackberries and the silent wood. Neither fully spiritual nor fully physical, we’re born with a thin memory of being both. Beauty is mythical to mankind, and art is its sacrifice. I may paint beautifully, but I will never paint Beauty. Humankind will never stop the pursuit, though it has long known the task to be in vain.

Augustine once wondered how he could comprehend beauty at all. To what high, unchangeable standard could his changeable mind refer? As Plato supposed, imperfect, physical circles must denote a perfect theoretical circle. Likewise, humanity sees its imperfection and contrasts it to an ideal. Comparison is embedded in the very core of the mind and with it, a sense of proportion. To refer to beauty is to refer to harmonious proportion. The shimmer between the tangerine and sky. The mother and child. The double helix. The Golden Ratio.

The aim of the artist is not to achieve this perfection in his own nature, but to participate in a more perfect essence. Man will always embrace the creative process, even simply in speaking and moving. Creative humans mirror a creative God.

Read the full essay at

Jaimie DiBernardo is a visual arts and communication arts double major from Pearl River, New York.


Beauty as Experience
By Ian Isaac

This past summer I stood in St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine. I snapped photos of the murals, annoying several of the older female custodians. As they scolded me in Russian, I found an ideal corner where I could better see the iconostasis. I stood positioned beneath a large column . . . and then I looked up. Above was a gold mosaic of Christ Pantokrator, the Archangel Gabriel, and the disciples, their eyes bearing down upon me. All I could do was gaze in awe and bewilderment of the persons depicted, the skill of the craftsmen who painted them, and the vibrant interplay of colors.

Beauty can be intricate, expressive, attractive, sublime and bewildering.

It can disrupt as well as comfort, it can make you feel infinitely insignificant as well as immeasurably alive. Beauty can be ravishing. It can also be mundane, orderly and predictable.

We don’t have to visit Ukraine to experience beauty (although I’d highly recommend it). It’s not an esoteric “form” only discovered in historic cathedrals, but in day-to-day routine. It is evident
on quiet streets, in empty rooms, and in time spent alone.

Read the full essay at

Ian Isaac is a political science major from Wenham, Massachusetts. He will study in Kiev in fall 2014.