...I've been thinking much about beauty lately. I think about children who grow up in homes with drab walls and no books and then spend eight hours of their day in cinder blocked school houses. Or the neighbor kid who comes over occasionally and asks me to play music for him off my iPod. Classical, Klezmer, Bhangra and soulful Morna.
Beauty makes the soul soar and it's as essential to the spirit as food and water is to the body. Yet it's mocked as sentimentality. Foolishness. It's wiped out of churches and removed from school curriculums. Even art school's favor is with modern art and beauty is turned into profanity.
On any given day I am not overly exposed to beauty. I sit in traffic each morning staring at grey asphalt, then I ride through treeless streets lined with ugly buildings and spend the remainder of my day in a cube. I imagine most people go through these typical mundanities daily and my day is not unlike the majority.
My home though, is where I surround myself with beauty. I have it hanging on the walls and dripping out of stereo speakers. I visit it in my mind through pages in a book. My home is my sanctuary... because today's churches are not.
It used to be churches were where regular people could experience that overwhelming awe inspiring spiritual soaring. Churches used to make the soul sing for God. Beauty in the Church is essential. I don't want God brought down from the Heavens and made "relatable" to me. I want to carried up to Christ so I can meet Him there and be in awe surrounded by beauty.
People often justify their ugly little parishes by saying they don't believe in wasting money for garnishments, money that could serve the poor. Little do they realize that their bleak and barren churches are spiritually depriving the poor, starving their very souls. I often wonder why people think the poor only deserve the basic most bare minimums. It's an injustice to deny them of the one place where their senses should swim in beauty and be a refuge from the ugly harsh world. The Church.
Indeed, when I was studying art history at Virginia Commonwealth University my refuge was the Richmond cathedral. I was fortunate my dorm, Johnson Hall, was right next door. In the harsh environment of vulgar modern art lauded by my instructors, my only retreat was at this cathedral. It started there, my conversion. I was completely unchurched and, being an atheist, no argument from another Catholic could have swayed me otherwise. But here, here there was no arguing against the beautiful peacefulness that filled me in this place. There was no refuting the absolute Truth represented in the beauty of this church.
Beauty picks up where words leave off. It breaks my hurt every time I step into a white washed church devoid of beauty and love. There's an unspoken evangelistic opportunity that happens to a soul every time it steps foot into a church gilded for God's glory. Ugly churches miss that opportunity.
I am also reminded of an interaction between two small children I met in a library several years ago. They hungered for beauty like a baby hungers for milk. This is our instinct. God intended us to enjoy beauty, that is why He gave us the ability to create. To deny beauty is to deny God. Even the smallest of children understand this and can sense the longing. You needn't be a scholar or theologian to recognize the longings were placed in our heart by God.
Those two small children, several years ago, came by a computer I was working on at a local library. They sat with me while I updated my blog and showed them various photos of beautiful church altars. Their mom wanted to know if they were bothering me and I assured her they were making my day. I asked her if they were Catholic because the children recognized some of the saints and she said their father was Cuban and took them to mass but she did not join them. When I left, the children were sitting at the computer showing their mother the images often featured here. I still sometimes wonder if her curiosity was peaked enough for her to finally join her family at mass.
Anthony Esolen writes, "When a lost soul wanders into the silence of one of our churches, it should not feel to him as if he had walked into a doctor's waiting room, or the department of motor vehicles, but into a new world, mysterious and true." [source]
St. Agnes in St. Paul MN