Friday, November 22, 2019

Reflections on "Theology of Home" (#2)

I am about two-thirds of the way through Theology of Home, a lovely book that was gifted to me recently by one of my daughters-in-law, Preciosa, as a way to thank me for watching her children for the day (a favor for which no thank you gift is ever needed, by the way--but this one was much appreciated).

We have only known each other since she started dating my third-born son in 2012, but this D-I-L knows me.  She could not have picked a book that speaks to my heart as loudly as this one does.

Theology of Home is all about the importance of creating a warm and beautiful dwelling where the members of your family can gather and feel loved, safe, accepted, and part of something so much larger than themselves, where their family history and memories are on display through photographs and souvenirs, where guests always feel warmly welcomed...a light-filled sanctuary where they feel God the Father's presence in every little nook and cranny. Because rather than merely dealing with the physical aspect of a home's beauty--the renovating and decorating and furnishing projects with which all the popular HGTV shows are primarily concerned--this book exposes the deep underlying truth that the reason human beings crave a happy earthly home--a "true north," no matter how far they travel in the world--is because they are yearning (whether they are conscious of it or not) for their eternal home in Heaven.

Just as the members of our families who have gone to their eternal homes live on in the next life, the photographs of these deceased loved ones that grace the walls of our earthly homes keep them alive in our memories.

In our dining room: my dad (who died in 2006), my mother-in-law (who died in 2009), and my 
father-in-law (who died in 2003).  The ornate carving above the photos was my M-I-L's and I
acquired it after she passed away; it reminds me of angels' wings, and I hung it above the pictures
of these three with the hope that they are now together in their Heavenly home.

Here is a quote about family photographs from Theology of Home: "There is scarcely a human alive that has not, at some point, felt a keen desire to be both there and here simultaneously.  But the limitations of humanity quickly remind us that we can't be in two places at once...We bridge this gap in our homes with photographs of loved ones...that remind us of the times and places we wish we could relive."

Family photos have always been the backbone of my wall décor.  I used to watch a silly TV show called "Trading Spaces," where two families would trade house keys for 48 hours and with the help of designers, redecorate a room in each other's homes.  I was fascinated by the idea of these folks being able to trust someone else with changing the appearance and personality of the places where they lived, which I never could have done myself.  My youngest son (now 26) once came into the room when he was just a little guy and watched the big reveals of an episode with me. When he saw the before shots and the afters, he said, "Those rooms look terrible now.  Where are all the family pictures?"  He was used to a house that had walls plastered with those, rather than designer-style statement pieces of art.

My only worry is that as my family continues to grow (we are at 16 grandchildren and counting now), I will run out of wall space!

Dear readers, if you cherish the concept of HOME, with all the many deeply emotional elements those four simple letters imply, you would love this book.  The title is spot-on, for it truly is a theological treatise on the very meaning of the word, and it illustrates how every aspect of human life here on earth is ultimately tied in with our need for God and our desire to be with Him in eternity.  It also emphasizes the importance and worth of work done in the home, which seen in a theological context can hardly be thought of as repetitive drudgery: "Whether it's baking bread, pruning a garden, sewing a dress, or even sorting and folding clean laundry, when done with love and in this context of order and freedom [which can assuage fear and anxiety], what was a burden and chore is transformed into a means of sanctification."

Before Theology of Home found its way to me, I had already been inspired  many years ago, when my five sons were still young boys, by similar words in a book that my husband got for me called Holiness for Housewives.

This slim volume was life-changing for me in a way, because I began to see the folding and putting away of every load of clean laundry, the washing of every dish, and even the scrubbing of every toilet as joyful endeavors, because these seemingly menial tasks I was performing were necessary to make our home an orderly world where everyone's needs were lovingly taken care of.  It's not that my husband didn't help me with household chores, because he did; but because he was the one who went out in the world to work and support us and I was the one who stayed home with the kids, the lion's share of the housework fell on my shoulders.  After I read that sweet little book, though, I began to enjoy the work I did around the house on a deeply spiritual level (I mean it!  I did!), and instead of resenting the never-ending chores required to keep our household running smoothly,  I truly began to see housework as a means of sanctification.  Every act performed with sacrificial love for my family became almost like a prayer.

Depending on your vocation in life, holiness will look different for everyone.  For the woman who works primarily in the home, these words from St. Frances of Rome should be an inspiration: "It is most laudable in a married woman to be devout, but she must never forget that she is a housewife.  And sometimes she must leave God at the altar to find Him in her housekeeping."

That sentiment might sound archaic and sexist and who knows what else, but I think there is so much beauty in it.  To know that being "just" a mother and homemaker is noble work is to be a true feminist--IMHO, as the kids say nowadays.

Anyway, getting back to Theology of Home--

I love the way the authors handle the subject of LIGHT, and how important it is for the comfort of body and soul.  Children are often afraid of the dark, but never the light. And there is so much symbolism involved; after all, Christ is the Light of the World, and "darkness, like sin, is characterized more by its deprivation.  Light can, in an instant, cast out the darkness."

As I read a section of the book about candles, and how sitting by candlelight should not just be reserved for romantic dinners, I realized it had been ages since I'd lit real wax tapers for a special family meal.  I used to do it all the time, but in recent years I've gotten lazy, and I've been relying on electric lighting or on pillar candles with LED faux flames.  Well...I have been inspired to light candles again.  As the authors point out, even in a group where creating a romantic atmoshphere isn't the goal, when the only light comes from a campfire, a fire pit, a fire in the fireplace, or candles, conversations feel "cozier and more engaged" as people huddle together near the light. 

Not only am I determined to bring more candlelight back into my home because of this book; I am also determined to eat at the table more often.  As empty nesters, my husband and I have gotten into the habit (when none of our kids are visiting and it's just the two of us) of eating in our respective recliner chairs, with trays on our laps, while we watch a movie or an episode of Glenn Beck together.  While I have been thinking of this as a cozy routine, I wonder if perhaps we need to make an effort to set the table nicely--with candles--at least more often than we do now.  Even when it's just us. 

Yesterday, I was telling my middle son that the last time his dad and I visited the treat aisle at Trader Joe's, I'd made an impulse purchase and brought home a gingerbread house kit--the first one I've ever bought in my 61 years of life.  "I don't know why I never thought to make them with you guys when you were little," I said.  This son and his wife Preciosa have already begun the family tradition of making gingerbread houses with their children every Christmas season, so my boy joked, "Mom, you failed us!"  For just a second, I thought, "I did!  Their childhood contained no gingerbread house-making contests!  That should be a staple of childhood!"  But then I thought, well, we did dye eggs with them every Easter.  And we carved pumpkins at Halloween.  Gingerbread houses just weren't part of our family's "thing."  Neither my husband nor I have any memories of making them with our parents and siblings when we were young, so I suppose it's not that surprising that we didn't think to make them with our kids.

That random conversation about gingerbread houses led me to think of the homes where my husband and I were raised.  We both grew up in comfortable, middle class families, in nice but relatively modest houses, with lots of siblings (he was one of 8, I was one of 5) but not a lot of extra money for things like fancy vacations, new cars, or top-of-the-line wardrobes.  Our family cultures were different in some ways, but also alike in many others.  Both families have always cherished time spent together more than anything--just talking, laughing, eating, drinking, telling old family stories over and over.  When we have reunions, we rarely have any special "activities" or "events" planned; the plan is usually just to hang out in someone's home and enjoy being together.  Our "love language," if you will, is quality time spent together.

Just as a happy, cozy home where the members of the family feel safe and loved is a reflection of the love of our Heavenly Father and the eternal home He has waiting for us, this love of spending time together, too, is a foretaste of what the afterlife we yearn for has in store: it will not be about the material things we enjoyed on earth, but about the people we love here.  They all play a part in our journey back to the Father.  "It will only be in the next life that we will fully understand the effect of our prayers for our ancestors in purgatory and how they, in turn, intercede for us."  Indeed, we make the strongest connections of our earthly lives with our families, in our homes.  And not even death can really separate us.  We are all connected, forever, in ways we will never fully understand in this life.

I feel as if I've gone off on too many tangents here, so maybe I should end this post and pick up later where I left off.  But just one more thing before I go: I am going to a book talk in Falls Church, VA tomorrow, where I will meet author Carrie Gress and have her sign my copy of Theology of Home!  I will be sure to let you know all about it next week!

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