Friday, 24 November 2017 06:00

The Necessity of Beauty in the Home

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Why is beauty important? Beauty has traditionally been counted as one of the ultimate values, along with goodness, truth, and justice. Beauty awakens us, brings us joy, and provides us with a sense of awe. Beauty reminds us of God’s presence in the world.

When we look at a breathtaking view from a mountain top, or watch the sun set in glorious colors, we can’t help but think of the Creator. This is why, from the beginning of Christendom, magnificent cathedrals have been erected, masterpieces of art have been painted and sculpted — even the chapels in the catacombs, deep beneath the ground, were beautiful. The worship of God should be done in a surrounding of beauty, primarily for His glory, but also should help us direct our minds and hearts toward Him.

We should not only desire to worship in places of beauty, and to help to make them beautiful, but also for this same reason, we should try to bring that beauty to our own home and family — our domestic church.

The reality is that we live in a world that can be very ugly. We try to shelter our children (and ourselves) from that ugliness — which can often even be promoted as “beautiful”. Because of this distortion, it is so very important to cultivate the sense of true beauty in our family. Our children need a foundation based on beauty. We want them to long for it in their own lives and to be able to distinguish between true beauty and what the world puts forth as beautiful. All beauty leads to God, and our role as parents is to lead our children to Him.

How can we instill in our children an understanding and desire for beauty?

Laura Berquist, in her book, The Harp and Laurel Wreath, turns the old adage, “You are what you eat” into “You are what you see and hear.” She goes on to say, “The models in one’s imagination and memory become part of the soul and affect all the rest of life.”

The beauty I am talking about isn’t found in opulence or extravagance. You don’t need chandeliers in every room and crystal on the dining table. You certainly don’t need a lot of money. With a little planning and creativity, there are many simple ways you can bring beauty into your home and family through music, art, literature, and nature. Below are just a few examples.

1. Fill your home with beautiful music.

Listen to classical music, sacred music, and solo instrumentalists at home and in the car. Bring your children to orchestras, operas, and any live beautiful music. Our city has a wonderful program to encourage children to attend the orchestra — with one paid adult ticket, up to nine children can attend free!

Many churches offer concerts showcasing organ pieces or choral music. Recently, a local church in our area brought in a Steinway piano and had a magnificent pianist play a program of Chopin. Each year, our city celebrates the birthday of J. S. Bach by inviting organists to play Bach pieces at historic downtown churches. Check out what your city offers!

Instead of giving your children more toys or electronics for their birthday, think about giving them an “experience” — tickets to an opera, symphony, or ballet. With a little research, you can find reasonably priced tickets at off-times. Perhaps your child can invite one friend or sibling, dress up, and make it a very special night to remember.

Consider having your children learn a musical instrument. It is, quite possibly, the best financial investment we have made as parents. There were many times we looked at our budget and my husband wanted to cut back. Somehow, thank you God, we managed to cut elsewhere so the children could have music lessons. With a large family, we have managed to have just the two oldest at home take lessons and then teach the younger ones. When one goes to college, the next one up begins teaching. Look for teachers who will emphasize the teaching of classical music.

A love for beautiful music must be cultivated from an early age. Children who have not been exposed to this type of music will most likely not gain an appreciation for it - gravitating instead toward more “popular” music.

2. Expose your children to beautiful art.

Bring your children to museums and show them good art. Many art museums are free on Mondays - take a field trip and study the paintings up close. However, just as you would before watching a movie with your children, know the content of the exhibit before you go. Not all art is beautiful!

When on vacation, take the time before you leave to research nearby cathedrals, shrines and other examples of interesting architecture. If you have older children, you can assign each of them one site to research, and have them share their information with the family while you visit.

Decorate your home with beautiful art. This doesn’t have to be expensive. With a little searching and luck, you can find original paintings for next to nothing at estate sales or thrift stores. Prints of beautiful artwork are fine, too! With a little creativity and spray paint, an old frame can be a lovely as the picture.

Buy used, oversized books of the great masters and encourage your children to look at them. Print copies of gorgeous paintings and paste them to the covers of your children’s schoolbooks. Laminate them and use them as placemats. There are many ways to expose them to wonderful art.

Of course, our homes should be filled with statues and pictures of the saints, Our Blessed Mother (who could be more beautiful than Mary?), crucifixes, icons, and other religious items.

3. Read and invest in beautiful books

Saturate your home with classic literature, poetry, and spiritual books. Have them read stories of heroic virtue and noble deeds. Stack your coffee table with books filled with gorgeous photography, artwork, and architecture.

Begin when your children are very young by selecting books that have wonderful illustrations and paintings.  Weed out books that lack beauty — either through uninteresting, or simplified text, or substandard artwork.

There are so many wonderful books out there, and it is easy to acquire inexpensive, used copies. Monthly library book sales or purchasing used books on Amazon are where most of our books have come from.

Be selective! Here is where quality is far more important than quantity. It is worth the time and investment to have your family surrounded by good, beautiful books. In one of my favorite books, A Landscape with Dragons, author Michael O’Brien provides outstanding reading suggestions according to age level.

Discover the beauty of poetry! In The Harp and Laurel Wreath, Laura Berquist provides an excellent selection of poetry — from elementary to more advanced. My younger children use this book to do their copy work for handwriting, and usually by the end of the week, they are able to recite a poem to the family at dinner time. For the older children, I use her poetry selections and literature excerpts for dictation and memorization exercises. Incorporating poetry into our homeschool (and having access to lots of wonderful books on poetry) has turned all of my children into poetry lovers.

Make a list of excellent books and start reading them, one by one, to your children. We often read out loud during lunch — even the older ones like to sit around the table and listen to Mom read wonderful books. Another mom I know puts on audio books (of great literature) when they are in the car — her children love it!

Like cultivating an appreciation for classical music or art, if children are not saturated in high quality literature from an early age, they most likely will shun it when they are older. The world is full of dime-store novels, teen romances, and fluffy books packaged in provocative covers to attract our children. Teach them to be very discerning. Keeping the standard of literature you have in your home very high is something you will never regret.

4. Bring beauty to your dinner table.

We live in such a fast-food, disposable society. Paper plates have become the norm for family dining. While they certainly have their use, there is something lovely about setting the table in a special way for the family dinner.

It doesn’t need to rival a setting in Downton Abbey — the simplest touches can transform a table. With your children’s help, you can cut some flowers from outside (or even just greenery from a bush put in a simple vase), light a couple of candles, use cloth napkins and place a pretty pitcher of water on the table. On special occasions, celebrate by getting out your nicest tableware. Put on a tablecloth and iron the napkins! One of my daughters loves to set a beautiful table, and she makes a big deal out of birthday dinners and special occasions. She comes up with new ways to fold the napkins and puts her calligraphy skills to use making pretty name cards. Setting a beautiful table for dinner not only makes the food taste even better, but also shows love and regard for your family.

5. Marvel at the beauty of Creation.

Take nature walks, go on hikes, discover your local state parks, drive to the beach (or mountains) and watch the sun set. Slow down and really look at the magnificent beauty God has given us all around. We so often take it for granted that we barely see it anymore. Almost every night, one of my daughters walks across the street (we live across from a big field in the country) and just watches the sun set. I hope she never loses that sense of wonder and awe when looking at the beauty of God’s creation.

Plant flowers, fruit trees, and flowering trees in your yard. There are plants which attract butterflies — it’s wonderful to see them flitting about in your garden. Put food and water out for the birds to enjoy. My mom has a hummingbird feeder right outside her kitchen window, and because she faithfully fills it up, the little birds flock to it. Do whatever you can to attract God’s creatures to your home so you can appreciate them on a daily basis. And, of course, place a statue of Our Blessed Mother, the queen of all beauty, in your garden.

We have all seen our little ones stop, crouch down, and watch, mesmerized, by the shining black beetle crawling on the sidewalk, or the bird splashing in the bird bath. They gaze at a crisp fall leaf, glorious in its color, then hand it to Mom as a special treasure. They are instinctively in awe of the simplest things of nature. Their hearts are turned toward beauty.

We cannot erase all the ugliness of the world, but we can keep that innate sense of beauty alive by the choices we make. Through music, art, books and nature, we can fill our home and family with beauty — awakening and reminding us that God is indeed present in the world.

“All that is good, all that is true, all that is beautiful, brings us to God.” - Pope Francis

Cheryl HernandezCheryl Hernández and her husband of more than 30 years, Kevin, live in Florida. They have nine children, including a daughter who is a Servant Sister. They are lay members of the Home of the Mother.