Tastes of the Divine: Hindu and Christian Theologies of Emotion

Tastes of the Divine: Hindu and Christian Theologies of Emotion

Tastes of the Divine: Hindu and Christian Theologies of Emotion

Tastes of the Divine: Hindu and Christian Theologies of Emotion

Synopsis

The intensity and meaningfulness of aesthetic experience have often been described in theological terms. By designating basic human emotions as rasa, a word that connotes taste, flavor, or essence, Indian aesthetic theory conceptualizes emotional states as something to be savored. At their core, emotions can be tastes of the divine. In this book, the methods of the emerging discipline of comparative theology enable the author's appreciation of Hindu texts and practices to illuminate her Christian reflections on aesthetics and emotion. Three emotions vie for prominence in the religious sphere: peace, love, and fury. Whereas Indian theorists following Abhinavagupta claim that the aesthetic emotion of peace best approximates the goal of religious experience, devotees of Krishna and medieval Christian readings of the Song of Songs argue that love communicates most powerfully with divinity. In response to the transcendence emphasized in both approaches, the book turns to fury atinjustice to attend to emotion's foundations in the material realm. The implications of this constructive theology of emotion for Christian liturgy, pastoral care, and social engagement are manifold.

Excerpt

Mahler’s soaring resurrections and gentle cynicism. Bach’s intelligent intricacy. Bruckner’s majestic block chords. Grainger’s whimsy. Mozart’s perfection. When all factors come together—the tuning of the instruments, the skill of the performers, the vision of the composer, the insight of the conductor, and the attention of the audience—music is pure bliss. During my college years, the conductor of the Calvin College orchestra referred to such conjunctions as “goose-bump moments.” Whether sitting in the French horn section or in the audience, my heart and body still stir at these moments of aesthetic transcendence.

My mind-body-spirit also knows these goose-bump moments through religious experience. Although my musical tastes have changed over time, the moments have arrived through hymns in four-part harmony, heartfelt praise choruses, protest songs, kīrtanas, and simple Taizé chants. I have looked around me and observed that others feel it too: closed eyes, raised hands, shouts of “Hallelujah,” silent tears. Even the “frozen chosen” in the Reformed churches are not immune to the thaw of the heart.

Sometimes it is difcult to tell where aesthetic experience ends and religious experience begins. From the humble sanctuaries of the American Midwest to Eastern Europe’s history-laden churches, our orchestra’s tour venues gave our music a religious cast. We sang tunes from the Genevan Psalter in Hungarian, striking the chord of a shared heritage spanning continents and centuries. the electric charge of beauty and spirit intensified in proximity to the handsome trumpet player two seats over. Our courtship and breakups were narrated to the soundtrack of some of the world’s most stirring music. Some alchemy of aesthetic bliss, a shared spiritual search, hormones, and true love ignited a world of meaning and value.

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