The 2006 Madeleva Lecture in Spirituality was given at Boston College by Dr. Susan A. Ross, professor of theology and faculty scholar at Loyola University in Chicago. It is reprinted in full in this paperback.
Christianity has not really known what to do with beauty down through the centuries, especially when it is incarnated in women. Equally difficult has been connecting beauty with goodness. Ross explores these themes in her assessment of women, beauty, and the church. She notes:
"There is, I suggest, an intrinsic generosity that is characteristic of beauty. Real beauty does not exclude; rather, it invites. Real beauty does not 'count up,' but rather flings its gifts to anyone who asks. Real beauty invites exploration and depth; it does not shut the door prematurely to the questioner. Beauty is always ready to give more. When we encounter a beautiful work of art, we find ourselves unable to exhaust fully the beauty that it offers."
Ross makes the point that many women have bought into the fashion industry's propaganda about what is beautiful and see themselves as lacking in beauty. More women need to develop a way of looking at themselves that incorporates appreciation of their appearance as part of self-love.
Ross does a really good job spelling out the various ways women have accentuated and nurtured beauty in the church through taking care of altars, vestments, linens, flower arrangements, and other enhancements of the worship life of the community. She even salutes the beautiful hats women have worn to present themselves to God.
She also talks about the women she met on a trip to Africa who demonstrated to her how house painting, crafts, and other activities can be links between beauty and the common good. In a final section, the author spells out how this spiritual quality is a sign of a humility that gives all the glory to God.