Seeking beauty as the important work of the evangelist

“Give yourself the gift of one beautiful thing, daily,” I remember hearing this advice in a radio interview years ago. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bouquet you pick on a walk, pausing to watch the sun peak over the horizon on your morning commute, lingering with a lovingly-created picture from a child (or allowing yourself the luxury of creating), or listening to a symphony on public radio. The list could go on.

We delight in beauty — we crave it!

Think of your body’s reaction when you experience something beautiful: a movie, a podcast, a book, a sunset or a song. Most often our first response is to share it. One of the great challenges of loneliness can be enduring the ache of beauty without the gift of enjoying it with another.

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In the same way, the work of an evangelist is to go out and share the Good News because it was never intended for us to keep to ourselves — it is a sheer gift. Our very response should be to share that gift with others, not to keep it to ourselves. We instinctively, though unconsciously, do the same thing with beauty.

Beauty as an evangelist

We are wired for beauty — cultivating it and noticing places of beauty resonates with us, interiorly on the deepest level. Not in the sense of skincare, home decor and capsule wardrobes seasonally touted by glossy magazines. Each can be good in its own right. What the advertising industry persistently grasps, and what we all recognize on a far deeper level, is that we are insatiably designed by God to seek out, create and hold on to that which is beautiful.

Beauty is nourishment for our senses

The Creator of the universe designed us in this way and relishes opportunities to nourish us with the variety of sights, smells and sounds that direct our hearts to God. Many wise and holy people have spilled ink on the subject of how beauty is intrinsically linked to the health of our souls. Whether in an efficient apartment, our backyard, an urban parking lot or a great Cathedral, we are forever in search of the beautiful — that which attracts our minds and hearts.

If you have ever listened to Bishop Robert Barron, you have likely heard his deep encouragement to meet people where they are, while introducing the Faith by way of the transcendentals: goodness, truth, and beauty. And always to begin with the palpable: beauty. “Lead with the beautiful, then the good, then the truth,” he says. Beauty is not up for debate; it does not offer judgment.

Beauty is simply received

Worship of the Divine artist can happen anytime, anywhere. And yet there is an entirely different experience of worshiping in a place that leads our thoughts to heaven by way of windows that tell stories, statues that inspire, architecture that invites our eyes heavenward, and music that speaks to the soul: it captures us.

Does our faith require lavish displays of artwork to be effective? Is the faith of those exposed to great works of art more profound than those without? Of course not! But, are our spirits stirred by the work of God, and those who have been created to create? Every time.

“The world will be saved by beauty,” wrote Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky. This notion resonated deeply with Dorothy Day, so much so that many attribute it to her. Both Dostoevsky and Day had come to understand through their own personal experiences that beauty is a saving grace in the often tiresome and drab duties of our lives, be it service to the poor by feeding those in soup lines or Catholic Worker houses, our trying circumstances, our faith lives, or the poverty that we both experience and witness. Beauty is a God-given and universal balm to our weary spirits.

Cultivating beauty

The appropriate response, then, must be to seek out and receive this gift for what it is by acknowledging its source. Perhaps it is our duty. Better yet, it is our prayer, as stated in the Liturgy of the Eucharist: “For, although you have no need of our praise, yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift.”

What a responsibility with which to be tasked! Would that we be good stewards of such lavishness, opening ourselves to the gifts strewn haphazardly throughout our lives for the frivolous and generous purpose of spreading delight. Moreover, what would be the result if our prayers, our hospitality, our homes and our garden patches offered the same?

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things,” (Phil 4:8).

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