Why I prefer the Beautiful to the Ugly

Why is the threshold of the house of God preferable to the dwellings of the wicked?

The world is ugly. I can’t ignore that reality because it surrounds me. It seems to be everywhere. We see it on TV and movie screens, on smartphone screens, and in modern popular music. We see it in human behavior and how we interact with each other. It’s all visibly, audibly, spiritually, and emotionally ugly. There is beauty out there, to be sure, but it’s so much harder to find today. The ugly, on the other hand, is front-and-center, whereas, in the past, you had to seek it out if you wanted to find it.

And so these lines from Psalm 86 deeply struck me:

“They are happy (blessed) who dwell in your house…They are happy whose strength is in you, in whose hearts are the roads to Zion. The threshold of the house of God I prefer to the dwellings of the wicked

Psalm 84:5-6, 11

The psalm reflects something I’ve been feeling lately. God is beautiful and perfectly good. Everything that proceeds from him is, therefore, beautiful and good. His Word, His Church, the Holy Faith, the works and lives of the saints, spirituality (which unites us intimately with Him), and of course, the Mass and sacraments are all beautiful and good. So I surround myself with them more and more, partly because they are beautiful and the Catholic faith is a beautiful adventure. But there’s something more that drives my pursuit of the beautiful—something you might not expect.

We see more clearly by comparisons. The white wall isn’t so white anymore when we hold a piece of white paper next to it. You may be eager to wash or re-paint your walls when you see how dull its whiteness is compared to a piece of white paper. In the same way, our experience with the beautiful causes us to see the ugly more clearly by contrast. It makes the ugly more pronounced, which makes it more repellant. And that propels us toward the beautiful all the more.  The more experienced we are with the beautiful, the better able we are to see even the most hidden aspects of the ugly by comparison, the more horrified we are by it, and the more we want to fly into the arms of God—the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.

The more intimately I know and experience God and the Beauty that comes from Him, the more clearly I see the horror and ugliness of the current human order and culture which has emptied itself of Him. Consequently, the more I want to run like hell away from that ugliness and go deeper into a sanctuary of the Beautiful.

The faith experience—my pursuit of holiness and deeper friendship with God—is like my sanctuary from the ugliness of man’s disfigurement of the human order and culture. It isn’t so much a hatred for ugliness that causes me to seek out the Beautiful (God and his works)—though it’s that, too. But what’s more, I seek it out for its own sake because I love it for its own sake. And I love it even more when I see what reality is like without it; without the Beautiful, and the Good and the True, which all come from God. “The threshold of the house of God I prefer to the dwellings of the wicked.” Oh indeed!

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