The Role of Beauty in the Culture of Busyness6:00:00 AMHannah Bruckner
The Role of Beauty in the Culture of Busyness
While cramming in some reading of Dietrich Von Hildebrand’s Beauty in the Light of the Redemption in the few minutes I had before my next class, I was suddenly stunned by Hildebrand’s bold statement that “utilitarianism is by no means the spirit of the Gospel” (1). Immediately, the story of Christ, Martha, and Mary came to mind, with Mary sitting dutifully at the feet of her Savior, and Martha concerned with the unum necessarium. Mary was reveling in beauty; Martha was getting things done. There I was, somewhere in the middle --- reading philosophy in order to better understand Christ’s words of eternal life, and hoping to cross it off my “to-do” list at the same time.
It seems plausible that one of the main factors behind the declining interest in beauty in our culture is the distraction of being overly committed. We’ve become “too busy” to enjoy an outing to the art museum or symphony. Instead, we opt to get those things done which are necessary to get by --- the student studies, the mother cares for the physical needs of her child, and the worker focuses on the task at hand. All of these things are good and valuable, of course. It is good and beautiful in its own right to respond to our present circumstances in life appropriately and responsibly. However, when one chooses to abandon the active pursuit of the beautiful simply because there are too many other obligations in the way, then we cease to give beauty its proper due.
Hildebrand himself acknowledges that the principle of utility can be valuable. However, he goes on to say that “necessity is not the only standard for the value of things. Christ’s saying, ‘Man does not live by bread alone,’ is to be applied, in the first place, to the religious sphere. However, it can also justly be extended to every spiritual realm” (2). While God the Father is certainly delighted when His children ask Him for their daily bread, Hildebrand would say that the generosity of God does not stop there and marvels, “is not God lavish in His creation?” (3). Could it be possible that our incessant “busyness” has blinded us from seeing the value of the truly beautiful?
As an example of God going “above and beyond” the unum necessarium, Hildebrand points to Christ’s first miracle at the wedding at Cana. This shows us that God’s love is an extravagant excess. When we see the beauty of the Alps, adore the perfectly kissable face of an infant, or hear a particularly moving piece of music --- we are stunned by this excess. It is safe to say that this God that we worship is a God of superabundant and excessive beauty.
One doesn’t need to reflect upon our culture for very long to realize just how warped our priorities have become. Fundamentally, the problem seems to be inappropriate value responses. There is a push in the wider culture for the moral realm to become a neutral or subjective realm. The obvious danger that naturally follows from this is that man becomes morally blinded. He can no longer see the value of an upright, morally good act. But can this blindness be isolated to only the realm of moral values, or does it affect the way man sees value everywhere? It would seem that the morally blind man would find it more difficult to see objective beauty where it may be found, whereas the morally upright man who can more easily discern the realm of moral values would be able to respond more readily to the realm of beauty. There is a consistency in the realm of values because it speaks of the objective goodness of God. The depths of morality naturally cry out to the depths of beauty, and the depths of beauty lead us back to the depths of morality. The morally blind society creates the morally blind man. The morally blind man often finds himself more susceptible to an inner numbness towards beauty. The man that is numbed towards beauty finds himself in a state of deep boredom. The bored man, then, becomes the busy man as his schedule seeks to distract him from the emptiness within.
The pull towards busyness is a temptation for the devout Christian, too. One could argue that the Saints were some of the busiest people, who also happened to be very productive in the societies in which they lived. While this may seem true externally, one can plumb the depths of any Saint and find that despite their hectic surroundings, they had deeply rooted value responses that created an inner stillness that can only be found in the bedrock of consistent living. This inner stillness is a place of reverence where the Saint finds himself valuing the gift of the present moment, savoring it, and responding to it. The busy Christian must make enough time for prayer to retreat into this inner cell of stillness where awe and appreciation of beauty can still be found. The call to appreciate beauty is for everyone, despite their schedule. Beauty is worth a moment or two. One only has to stop, breathe, and savor.
- Dietrich Von Hildebrand, Beauty in the Light of the Redemption