Connie | Contemplative Homeschool
I’ve always loved beauty. I’ve often dreamed of being an interior decorator. So it’s no surprise that I used to subscribe to House Beautiful and pick up copies of Better Homes & Gardens at the grocery store. I’d flag some pages and make notes in the margins. I was planning my dream house while living in a tiny apartment.
Catholics say that beauty is one of the transcendentals that has its origin in God. God is Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and Unity. So beauty is not just a good thing. It’s necessary for a full life.
Back when I was single, I was working three jobs for a total of sixty or more hours a week. Some days I was so stressed, I needed outside help to find peace. I would drive to the Minneapolis Institute of Art a couple miles away and stare at my favorite paintings. Suddenly I’d be taking those slow, deep breaths that clear the mind and seem to clear the soul. A sense of well-being would flow over me. Then I could go home and greet my roommate with a smile before I hurried off to my evening’s work.
Eventually, I bought a poster of Gerome’s The Carpet Merchant, framed it, and hung it in my hallway. Now I didn’t need to go to the art museum to find peace. I had beauty in my own apartment.
About this same time, I was a novice in the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. Preparing to make our first promises, we studied about obedience, chastity, and—gulp—poverty. Now, I grew up in a family with ten siblings and a father without a college degree. We had never had much money. As an adult, I was always struggling to make ends meet. My friends probably thought I was stingy, because I had to watch my purse so closely. So why was poverty a big deal for me?
I had my dreams. I didn’t want to give them up. I dreamed of a beautiful, spacious house. Soft pillows piled on the bed. Perhaps carved bed posts with a canopy above. Carpets I could bury my toes in. A large, but traditional, kitchen. A library where I could sip tea, write at my secretaire, fall on my fainting couch when I wanted to relax, and have every great novel within reach. Wasn’t that how life was supposed to be?
But I wanted to be a Carmelite, so I had to embrace poverty. Could I do it? Then it dawned on me: beauty and luxury were two different things. I had been confusing them. Living with beauty didn’t mean owning a McMansion. It didn’t mean buying lots of stuff that was purely for show.
The bare cell of a cloistered Carmelite—like the one my brother was later to occupy as a monk—was beautiful in its simplicity. A sunset could not be a status symbol. And great paintings were beautiful not because they portrayed the sumptuous, but because they touched on the transcendent.
I canceled my subscription to House Beautiful. I gave away some of my surplus possessions. And I married a man who wanted to work for the Church. But before that, I made my first promises.
We bought our current house four years ago. Since we were making a long-distance move, I let my husband make an offer without my seeing it. Let’s just say his digital pictures didn’t do its neediness justice! It’s not at all what I once dreamed of.
Our books are on put-together shelves from Menard’s in the homeschool/family room. The Carpet Merchant, whose glass suffered from a stray ball, is in the storeroom. The kitchen has a 1950s counter and a vinyl floor that is peeling at the edges. But at least we have painted our bedroom, so it’s no longer fire-engine red!
I still have lots of artwork on the walls, some secular, some religious. But that is not what makes my home truly beautiful. That role belongs to my husband and sons, who every day show me more about God and His goodness. I am living Gospel poverty, and I am steeped in beauty.