Having never been to Heaven, as far as I remember, I cannot speak of heavenly beauty, of life in the eternal divine. And yet, I have read accounts of those who have visited Heaven, some few of the thousands who relate near-death experiences, and I have read and have considered Swedenborg’s waking visits to Heaven, and find them incredible, not so much for the angels and perfections, but because Heaven is not home to poodles, and a place without poodles is not heaven to me.
Too, I have read and considered Dante, yet cannot quite suppose nine celestial spheres of Heaven decorated with Trecento opinions, being as I am a Classical Greek whose empirical cosmology touches the demiurge. Milton I have considered and judged him of Satan’s party, Heaven being an object the devil is ambitious to possess, a species of goal and reward. Each Sunday I consider the lovely Saint Mary’s Basilica, its windows peopled with earthly saints; I consider the humane homilies of Father Hathaway, the worldly homilies of Father David, the studious homilies of Father Joseph, and have found them good.
Yes, life can be beautiful, when humane in the divine, when informed by allegory, when illustrated in colored light well-lined, artfully conceived. When, after sharing ceremony, tradition, contemplation and respectful celebration, I return to home and to poodles I can in truth say, “Life is Beautiful.” Returning to poodles at home is a beautiful experience, though it is not beautiful living. Then, what is this thing, Beautiful Living.
As far as I can tell, Beautiful Living is a fullness of aesthetic experience, you know, the experience of beauty through art, through verses and pictures and buildings, through songs and ceremonies and celebrations repeated in the pattern of days.
New things are seldom beautiful things, unless newly blossomed from tradition. Tradition is a species of wisdom distilled into us from the life and experience of others. We are wise when we accept into ourselves the wisdom of tradition, the celebrations, ceremonies and songs which enlarge our span, which extend our span from parents before memory into generations of children we shall never know, except perhaps when peeking through heaven’s veil into the mutable.
We are wise to live in art among traditional buildings, and pictures, and verses that in goodness beautifully tell truth. Perhaps you have noticed that those who live into classive beauty are more humane than those who progress into ugly iconoclasm. When you are wise, you know that all art is an idea made real, a thing more of mind than of clay or pigment or breath, a thing more of soul than of body.
When living beautifully in art, one lives among the souls of men in things, the bodied spirit of ideas that live after us and among us. Pictures and statues and buildings and poems and songs are alike angels in the earthly realm, spirits of the divine, representatives of Heaven. Each time that a beautiful building is with an ugly addition debased, each time a beautiful statue is trampled, each time a beautiful poem is deconstructed to prose, a sin is committed.
Sin? Yes. A crime against God, an offense to the beauty of the man yet living in the art. You will notice that progressives destroy the tradition of Beauty, that a Hell on Earth is growing up around us and among us. You will notice that the nihilist progressive is most often a pietist who pleasures in destruction, who in anger stomps a statue, who in envy uglies a building, who in pride unmeters, unrhymes breath in words of verse.
Ugliness is common in human animals. Beauty is common in divine persons. One, souled, the child of God. The other, soulless, the child of apes. Beautiful Living is the patterned participation in Beauty, Goodness, Truth. The ugly life is a chaos of things to be eaten and flushed away. Better, I think, to progress toward Classive Tradition than to retreat into Progressive chaos. What is best … well, who in truth knows. A God might say, though we are unlikely to hear, and we are unlikely to know before we find our Heaven.*
This June 2022 edition of The Beautiful Home is enriched by the contributions of regular and of occasional authors: Milton Grenfell’s monthly column, “round and about the house”; observations by Erick Bootsma; and a new monthly feature, “Reminiscences of Home”; also, several workshop designs and plans. Hope you enjoy…
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* This Beautiful Living essay is adapted from a consideration posted at The Studio Books.
Featured image, The Washington Family, Edward Savage, c.1796, National Gallery of Art.
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