Thursday, April 30, 2020

A Garden Nursery Is An Essential Business - Especially in Lockdown!

In this period of lockdown, a focus on gardening can be a way to facilitate the meditation upon the beauty of God, in even the most mundane of homes.

There are some who want to see a beautiful culture, who suggest that one of the reasons that we see such ugliness in modern culture is that the guiding principle in design is utility. In a society that is so utilitarian, driven by economic considerations only (so the argument runs), there is no use for beauty and so in order to cut corners, architects give it little consideration.

I don’t hold to this view.

First, I believe that beauty does have a utility. It is a visible sign that something is good at fulfilling its purpose. A beautiful house is beautiful because it houses people well. This means it has to be liveable in such a way that the people who live there can actively pursue their supernatural end. Such a house will be structurally sound, will encourage the creation of community, and prayer, as well as all the mundane and everyday activities of life that we engage in - eating, sleeping, and even watching movies from time to time!

In principle, every building, no matter how mundane its primary function, can be designed to account for the fact that the human beings who occupy it are body, soul, and spirit.

When people see such a house (or factory, warehouse, hospital, university, shopping mall...), they will instinctively know that it is good for them - even if they can’t say why - and will want to live there or go there. Beautiful houses sell, therefore. Furthermore, I suspect that generally, even the most cynically profit-driven developers know that visual appeal will create demand for what they build, and would try to make their buildings as beautiful as they can within budget.

The main reason that there is such ugliness, I suggest, is that architects no longer know how to design beautiful buildings. They try, but they can’t do it. They are ignorant of or do not understand the basic rules of harmony and proportion that were developed as design principles for buildings that are in harmony with this highest and most noble purpose - enabling people to work towards their supernatural end. As a result, they are unable to design beautiful buildings. They are generally ignorant of these principles of design, and even if they are aware of them, because they do not recognize the true end of man, they would not acknowledge their importance.

This architect was trying to create beauty!

Most of us are not in a position to influence the design of the homes we live in. Economic considerations direct us to a limited range of choices. However, there are things that we can do to create a more beautiful environment. The need for a beautiful home that elevates the soul has increased recently, given that we are bound to spend so much time at home.

One way to respond to this is to plant for beauty, so that we can create little Edens that encourage meditation upon God’s creation. Just as an icon corner can be a focus for prayer at home, beautiful plants and flowers can nourish the soul. Every plant, as a reflection of divine beauty, naturally incorporates the principles of harmony and proportion of the cosmos, and so can be an object of meditation and aid to contemplation. If you can create a medieval walled garden, that would be great,

but if not, the tiniest space can be planted out - even if it’s a window box.

I was pleased to discover that because construction is considered a necessary business in California, and landscaping is an aspect of construction, garden nurseries have remained open. I don’t know if this an inspired recognition of the need for divine beauty in people’s lives in these troubled times (I suspect not), but it is welcome nevertheless.

Here is a little corner outside the building where I live, which I have planted up. It is a tiny concrete space, but becomes a place for prayer when the sun shines. I’m no expert at this, but just to have something like this makes a huge difference in my appreciation of being at home.

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