The face of God
Part of the positivistic and mechanistic view of the universe which has dominated the scientific thought of the last three centuries was, until recently, a growing effort to “prove” that there is no such thing as God. For me therefore to infer any reliance on God, or to show any aspect of a work which even smacks of this kind of thing, is sentimental, non-factual, perhaps even fanatic.
If it were suggested that we could only give a building life by standing in the mainstream of some extant religion, like Christianity, Islam, or Buddhism, this might indeed be troublesome. That, however, is not what I suggest at all. The intensity of life in the world does not depend on the secular or social body of doctrine and cultural habit which we commonly call “a” religion, or on any of the recognized religious doctrines. Indeed I suspect that the organized churches and religions are unfortunately rather far from any connection with the ground, or with the facts about the universe which cause an inner connection between the realm of matter and the realm of God or I.
It is true that there is a connection between religion and the art of building, and that this connection is functional and inescapable. […] But when we examine this connection carefully, we find out that it is a connection with the invariant structure common to all religion, to the psychic center of religion as it exists innately in a person, and to the material nature of the universe.
It is that essence which concerns itself with the connection between our own substance, and the substance of the universe, which is at stake. The depth, the life we have identified, comes into being in the building only when this intimate connection between our own selves, and the great self of the world is made active so that it is entirely within our grasp, because it depends only on the extent to which we can let go of out own small selves, and surrender to the greater self.
I cannot make clear common sense of this explanation. I cannot give an operational account of what it might mean. I do not know how to devise an experiment which could establish that it is happening. And yet I am certain that this explanation is the correct one, and that the search for that ground is not merely some psychological exercise in which we look for things which remind us of our inner selves, but an experience in which we approach, as closely as a person ever can, to the underlying non-material stuff of which the world is made, and in which we come as close as possible to a direct experience of what is real, an experience in which we are enveloped, melted, evaporated, lost, and where we touch, for an instant, the inner stuff, behind the stuff, of which we and our world are made.
If we are willing to recognize this ground, whether we call it God or something else, and recognize that this light is behind all things which are at one with themselves, then we may say, simply, that a thing is beautiful to the extent that it reveals this one.