Growing up in a college town, I was given the impression that it was superficial to care too much about beauty, especially in ordinary objects. While we should appreciate the arts, from Rembrandt to Shakespeare (mostly for the technique and skill with which these artists worked rather than the beauty present in their art), highlighting beauty in the commonplace, such as one’s home or self, was seen as shallow and unimportant.
In the Christian view, however, beauty is far from trivial. It is one of the fundamental aspects of God, along with truth and goodness.
Through beauty, we can better understand God himself. As writer Gregory Wolfe said, “It enables us to be open to the fundamental experience of the encounter with God, our perception, our being transfixed or captivated by the beauty of his creation. The root of the word aesthetics just means perception, the capacity to see.”
As philosopher Roger Scruton explains, there are different types of beauty, including the beauty in the commonplace:
“Here are two kinds of beauty: the individual, expressive and revealing gesture, and ordinary harmony and fittingness. In everyday life it is the second kind of beauty that is important, and it is exemplified in home building, gardening and the design of squares, houses and streets. It is important because it expresses and amplifies the human desire for settlement, for an environment in which things fit together and people too. It is an instrument of peace.”
Scruton emphasizes the importance of the second type of beauty, the beauty in daily life. Far from superficial, he says that it is “an instrument of peace.”
Why, then, did I think these concerns were trivial?
In our culture, this type of beauty is intimately intertwined with consumerism; it necessitates adopting trends and constantly buying new products. In the realm of the home, magazines and blogs impart the idea that a beautiful house requires expensive, matching furniture and decorations, as well as constant updating.
In addition to being impractical, these home-making ideals foster constant dissatisfaction with what we have. Moreover, they miss the essential aspects of achieving a truly beautiful home — after all, the Holy Family’s home must have been beautiful!
The example of the past, in a culture less consumed with constantly purchasing new items, can instruct us on what it truly means to make a beautiful home.
In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series, the Ingalls family lives in a series of diverse houses, from a log cabin to a sod dugout and everything in between. In each house, Ma and the girls set up their home in an orderly way while Pa warms the house with a fire.
The family has a few beautiful things they carry from place to place, including a decorative wooden shelf Pa made for Ma in the first book. Each day, the family takes time to keep the house tidy and clean. The house and food is the means of the family’s hospitality to guests, even though their food is often simple.
The Ingalls example demonstrates that care, attention, simplicity and orderliness are essential elements for making a home. Their furniture is simple but well-made. These elements are timeless rather than changing with the trends.
If we keep these principles in mind, we can elevate our everyday life with Scruton’s second type of beauty. Through the beauty in the ordinary, we are better able to glimpse the beauty of the divine.
Anna Maria Scaperlanda Biddick writes from Oklahoma City.