Behold Beauty, Including by the Sea

Of making home lovely and ‘Theology of Home III: At the Sea’

‘Theology of Home III: At the Sea’
‘Theology of Home III: At the Sea’ (photo: Courtesy of TAN Books / Kim Baile photos)

Register contributor Emily Stimpson Chapman writes lovely words. I enjoy reading her musings on Instagram.

A few months ago, her reflections on beauty struck my heart.

She wrote, in part:

“Beauty matters. It’s not the most important thing. It’s not the only thing. You shouldn’t make an idol of it. But beauty still matters. … It comforts. It consoles. It helps me to breathe.

“It does this because it reminds me of another Home and the One who is preparing that Home for me.

“As the Church understands it, beauty is a window through which we see God. It gives us a glimpse of the order, harmony, and peace for which we were made. Or, more accurately, it gives us a glimpse of the One who is Order, Harmony, and Peace. And that’s a glimpse we all need. … Everyone. We all need beauty. We all crave it. We all were made for it.

“… You need it. So do your family and friends. Like those churches of old, it is, in right measure, an act of evangelization and love.

“It also is an act of defiance. It is a refusal to give up in the face of grief and madness. It is an insistence that we were not made for chaos. It is a declaration that we do not belong to the father of lies, but the God who is Beauty. We are made in His image.

“So plant some flowers today. Or pick some. Sweep your floors. Open the curtains. Hang a picture. Rearrange furniture. Paint a wall if you want. Just do what you can to make your corner of creation a bit more beautiful.”

Catholics, of course, have long cultivated beauty — from grand churches adorned in stained glass to the beautiful witness of the lives of the saints.

I love beatifying my home with fresh flowers and Marian art. I love celebrating wonderful words — of Scripture, of saints and more — pointing to Truth and offering glimpses of ultimate Hope.

As Pope St. Paul VI reminded artists, “This world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. It is beauty, like truth, which brings joy to the heart ...” 

And as St. Alphonsus Liguori reflected, “When we see a beautiful object, a beautiful garden, or a beautiful flower, let us think that there we behold a ray of the infinite beauty of God, who has given existence to that object.”

Or, as St. Anthony of Padua put it: “If created things are so utterly lovely, how gloriously beautiful must he be who made them!”

Something that is utterly lovely: the sea.

Consequently, I enjoyed reading the latest Theology of Home book: Theology of Home III: At the Sea.

As a woman whose favorite color is water-themed (aqua), I lingered on the pages showing lovely photographs of blue water. The book shows the authors’ families enjoying the beach and water and includes photos of nautical items, with a statue of the Blessed Mother perched on a nearby shelf or table here and there.

Looking for a calming read? This is it.

‘Theology of Home III: At the Sea’  2
Amy Smith photographs of Kim Baile photos in ‘Theology of Home III: At the Sea’ from TAN Books

Authors Carrie Gress and Noelle Mering explain how water has accompanied and shaped humanity for eons — and how Holy Mother Church anchors its sacramental life with it.

They write:

“The sea draws us in but also makes us want to draw some of it into our homes. We want to live near it or at least bring its beauty inside …”

I particularly enjoyed the reflection on water’s role in Jesus’ life, from  calming the storm — Peace! Be still! — to that wonderful wedding miracle to the first sacrament. 

As the book explains:

“Jesus communicates to us that water … [is] a deeply meaningful way to communicate God’s grace, healing, and love.”

And, though not all of the reflections in Vol. 3 moved me, given my Marian heart, I loved the Blessed Mother-focused connections Gress and Mering included and the reassurance that Stella Maris (Star of the Sea) always aids us amid our own stormy seas. Included is a quote from Pope Benedict XVI, from Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope), that I also return to: “Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us?” 

Reading this volume, I thought back to past tranquil days spent along Florida beaches as well as by the New England shore with my family.

I am grateful, too, for my time in graduate school, when, on lovely-weather days, I would take a study break by the shores of Lake Michigan on campus, for, as Theology of Home III attests, 

“… there is something ever nostalgic and new in the memory and hope of a warm day at the sea.”

How the beautiful blue can quiet an anxious heart and a mind full of to-dos!

Jane Austen’s novels reflect this truth, too, per the book’s charming “Jane at the Sea” section. 

Reading these insights makes me appreciate my Midwest neighborhood ponds all the more — how restful it is to look upon shining water as I traverse the paths, praying in the quiet of my heart as I walk and take in the calming beauty.

This book, like the sea itself, is a balm to the soul.