Life on earth is beautiful. There is pain and imperfection, but that does not detract from the beauty that is present. Not only is there beauty in the natural world, but also in carefully crafted man-made things, and in nonmaterial things, such as relationships, ideas, music, and poetry. I find that in most cases, beauty needs to be cared for, cultivated, and preserved. Beauty is more fragile, more easily damaged, and more costly than the ugly or strictly utilitarian object. Have you ever noticed that people sometimes shy away from beauty because of the responsibility that comes with it? People use paper plates for dinner instead of the good china because they do not have to take care of the paper plates afterwards and besides, something could be broken and then there would not be a complete set sitting in a cabinet any more. Having fake flowers is easier than tending a live plant and a plastic toy is cheaper and more easily replaced than a hand painted wooden one. More expensive clothing and jewelry remain in the closet so that nothing happens to them and no risks are taken.
I have been thinking about this as I have been considering how important beauty is to the Montessori philosophy. Check out that blog post here. In our preschool classroom, we have lots of beautiful things made out of wood, glass, polished metal, etc. These objects are fairly sturdy as they are designed for children, but they are not indestructible. Things get broken sometimes. But when something gets broken, the child learns the consequences of their roughness and we replace the object. I am proud when I think of how fortunate the children at our school are to have so many beautiful things to interact with, even though they may cost more and are more easily damaged than cheaper plastic objects. I would say there is wisdom in making sure both your family heirlooms and your young children are safe from one another, but I think it is a wonderful thing to gradually allow children the responsibility of beautiful and more valuable objects. .
I think the responsibility that comes with beauty is especially relevant to Christians. One historic stereotype of a Christian is a person who is extremely utilitarian and minimalistic with their possessions, not looking for anything beyond the practical. I am all in favor of using money wisely and not indulging in excess, but I do not think God put beauty around us for nothing. Indeed, God gave Adam and Eve the responsibility of being caretakers for the Garden of Eden. For some reason, I do not think this included merely tending the most nutritious and hearty of vegetables. God created a huge variety of foods for our enjoyment, not one practical food to forever satisfy our hunger. He also created flowers and plants that were not intended to be eaten at all. They were created for beauty and enjoyment. He also created incredible landscapes which may not be practical at all for dwelling in or producing from, but they are pleasing to the person who views them or travels through them.
I visited a Christian mission in Mexico that has many wonderful, practical ministries to the community, including an orphanage, drug rehab centers, food and clothing available for the needy, a volunteer fire and rescue department, wheelchair equipment, special needs ministry, etc. They also have a large garden, with a few full-time employees in charge of the garden. This mission, run mostly off of generous donations, located in a desert region of Mexico, maintains a half-acre garden! They do not waste the little fruit that comes from the garden, but most of the plants are trees and flowers for visual enjoyment and to create a beautiful, peaceful place to pray. Why would they do that? Why would they spend the effort, the time, the precious water, and the money for the staff, in order to maintain this garden? Because they know that God delights in beauty and that effort spent in cultivating and preserving beauty is not wasted.
I think that more Christians need to have this attitude about the earth. Too often, those in the Christian community laugh at environmental projects and are just as wasteful with their resources as the average American. Though we know the earth will someday be made new and all of the old will pass away, we should not treat the earth as we do disposable plates. We cannot use the earth harshly just because we know it will end. Instead, we need to treat it as the china plate. We have been privileged to use this valuable gift from God and it must serve us until the proper time. While we are waiting for the renewal of all things, we should carry it carefully so that it does not chip or crack prematurely. It is meant to be used, but to be used properly and delicately. Alert attention should be paid to its care. We cannot shy away from our responsibility as care takers of the earth.
With beauty, comes responsibility. And beauty is worth the effort of responsibility.
Photo is my own