…for we all require beauty…
-Charlotte Mason. Volume 6 page 14.
Camille asked me to share my thoughts on “The Atmosphere of the Home.” With our busy lives, we can so often live day to day and don’t take time to consider the art of creating bright and cheerful homes. And the idea of Beauty?! When we have piles of laundry, hungry children and a deadline, beauty seems a frivolity.
We are all very different families and in different seasons of life, but we all were made for beauty and as beings created in the image of God, we have a capacity and role to foster and bestow beauty… or as the poet-priest GM Hopkins says, (Listen to a fabulous recitation of this poem here. It is a favorite!)
“Give Beauty Back, Beauty, Beauty, Beauty, Back to God, Beauty’s self and Beauty’s giver…”
Isn’t that lovely…God as beauty’s self and beauty’s giver…Give Beauty Back.
The Ancients asked the question and attempted to work out Who or What is God? What are the Transcendentals of God, or the Properties of his Being. This question was taken up by Aquinas and other Church Fathers time and again and ultimately they answered with Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Yes, Truth. Yes, Goodness. But in our modern age…beauty? Let us not fail to recognize that beauty. Pope Benedict 16th in an address to artists said God is “the first and last source of beauty.” There is Beauty in His holiness, perfection, infinitude, and in His gift of redemption.
When we contemplate and experience the beauty of God we know Him more.
When we create beauty we are participating in His very nature.
Beauty thought of on this higher plane, is what lifts the mundane or ordinary into a gift, into what is lovely. Beauty reveals and highlights the true and the good. Beauty makes Truth and Goodness desirable.
I remember when I was very sick last year and a friend made our family a meal. What a gift, a sacrifice and time. I was so humbled that she would do it. And it was delicious, but what I remember is how simply, yet beautifully, it was presented. A nice basket, pretty linen, a bottle of wine, a lovely note…It touched something more than the just the physical.
We can feed our children the fuel they need for their bodies to run or we can create the beautiful experience of togetherness around the family table with a nourishing meal.
At night, we can put our children to bed or we can tuck our children into clean sheets of a nicely made bed filling them with a sense of home and safety and coziness.
Bestowing beauty is a way to do these small ordinary acts with love. And I have found that trying to do the work of the home in a beautiful way, rather than in an efficient, or orderly, has helped me to enjoy it more. The work is elevated.
Sadly, in our modern world, beauty is pushed aside for what is efficient or merely useful. We allow ourselves to be satisfied by the cheap and easy. Even worse in a world of air-brushing, we’ve become jaded to think that beauty is superficial and lacks meaning. And oftentimes many of us sorely lack an interior life able to take in beauty.
And so, just as I spend time considering curriculum and extracurricular activities, planning grocery lists and menus, do I work on building a bright and cheerful home? One of beauty and peace and love.
How do I teach my children to recognize, love, and will what is True, Good, and Beautiful? Are there ways I can incorporate more beauty in my children’s lives?
Mason has many answers to these questions in her six volumes on education, but I believe the place to begin as parents and educators is with one of the three educational tools that we can validly use in raising children: atmosphere.
When we are surrounded by the beautiful, our perspective changes. Roger Scruton, says in his documentary (a must watch!), Why Beauty Matters? that the great artists were “aware that human life is full of chaos and suffering and they had a remedy for this and the name of that remedy is beauty.”
This is what the beauty does; it draws us out of ourselves…to what is real…and that reality is infinite. As parents and educators one of our main goals is to help our children to grow into maturity and adulthood. Sadly, an option many young people are not choosing! In the book, Family Virtues, edited by Jose Martin, “Initially a child is focused on his or her own private world; children mature when they begin to understand that they are not the center of the universe, when they begin to become open to the world and others around them” (page 5). When we expose children to beauty, we call them out of themselves…to what is real…and they mature, they open themselves to the world and to others.
“As for that aesthetic ‘appetency’ (to use Coleridge’s word) upon which so many of the gentle pleasures of life depend, it is open to many disasters: it dies of inanition when beauty is not duly presented to it, beauty in words, in pictures and music, in tree and flower and sky. The function of the sense of beauty is to open a paradise of pleasure for us; but what if we grow up admiring the wrong things, or, what is morally worse, arrogant in the belief that it is only we and our kind who are able to appreciate and distinguish beauty? It is no small part of education to have seen much beauty, to recognize it when we see it, and to keep ourselves humble in its presence.” Charlotte Mason. Volume 6 page 56
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