Mono no Aware

Writing between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is an appropriate time to consider the Japanese notion of beauty, or bigaku (美学).  In most Western creative forms until the turn of the 20th century, artists attempted to duplicate beauty—painting a resplendent sunset, or blooming flower, or evoke a mood in music.  The Japanese notion of beauty revolves instead around the feeling or sense of the beautiful, known as mono no aware.  So, a Japanese painter, for instance, might prefer to paint a wilting flower—the viewer doesn’t see the beauty in the artwork, but feels the hidden beauty of the wilting bloom, since that flower was once beautiful.  In fact, the word aware sounds like an archaic form of moderate surprise: in English the “ahhs” or “oohs” of the firework-watcher.  Hence mono no aware (物の哀れ) translates somewhat literally as the “ahh-ness of things.” Why do I mention this on Black Saturday?  Our prayer for Karis Japan is that the Japanese people would come to see the beauty hiding behind even a brutal death on the cross.  We also sense, in the solemnity and darkness of Good Friday and Saturday, the mono no aware (物の哀れ), the beauty in sins paid for—and the truth that Sunday is coming.

**Update** Something about minds thinking alike. I just discovered that Peter J. Leithart wrote along similar lines yesterday, connecting the historical tradition of Western art with the crucifixion (but he didn’t mention Japan).  Read and ruminate: http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2012/04/beauty-on-a-friday-afternoon

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