Creating the Haven of Home: ‘Theology of Home II’
BOOK PICK: ‘The Spiritual Art of Homemaking’ is an edifying read about domestic life rooted in faith.
Fewer sights bring me greater joy than seeing the morning sun illumine fresh flowers on my kitchen table, the bright rays peeking just so through the slats of the shutters on the windows. The glow fills my heart with joy and prompts a grateful prayer as I prepare coffee. “Thank you, God, for simple joys and for home.”
That sense of gratitude imbues the second installment of the Theology of Home series, as I discovered on a recent weekend. The fall chill in the air provided the perfect opportunity to cozy up and delve into this book.
Theology of Home II: The Spiritual Art of Homemaking (TAN Books, October 2020) by co-authors Carrie Gress and Noelle Mering continues the conversation of what home is, sharing through lovely vignettes and photographs (by Kim Baile and Dori Greco Rutherford) what makes a house a home through the enduring efforts of homemakers.
I found myself continuing to reflect on its message in the following days. One lovely line in particular kept coming back to me:
“ … in the midst of our specific responsibilities in the here and now, we can find Christ.”
Finding Christ in the present moment is truly at the heart of it all, contemplating the eternal amid the earthbound, for faith and fellowship should be rooted within all that is “home.”
It’s far more than the décor or furniture, though creating a cozy, pretty ambience is part of it. But whether your home is modern farmhouse, midcentury modern or colonial in style, a homemaker should have “a heart attuned and attentive to the needs of loved ones,” the authors write — what a beautiful way to describe how the feminine genius helps women, whether physical or spiritual mothers, cultivate the domestic arts well.
As a fan of flowers, and one who recognizes how they can bring cheer and augment a seasonal aesthetic, I appreciated the section on “Decorating with Fruit and Flowers,” which discusses how “decorating with flowers and fruit is an easy and attainable way to inject simple moments of beauty into our homes. … Their presence suggests a harmony with the outdoor world, with the seasons of locale, as well as a connection with the vibrancy of life.” The afterword also includes insights into the floral connection between Mary and the saints and underlines their role in adding to the harmony of home: “A bouquet of flowers can draw the eye and bring beauty to a room. We offer them to those who are suffering, celebrating, and mourning. They communicate love, and a good beyond that of mere use …” The floral photographs that adorn these pages attest to this truth.
As I made my way through each section, I kept thinking of a beloved quote from Jane Austen contained in the first Theology of Home: “There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” This volume has a few photos that look like they are straight out of an Austen novel, underscoring the idea that home is ultimately about cultivating care and comfort in order to create a happy haven for souls.
That sense of being home, in all that encompasses, is vital to living well, especially at this time of pandemic when we are spending much more time in our houses.
“Fruitfulness in making a home emanates from being in a filial relationship with God,” the book emphasizes.
Our faith life can and should envelop our homes, from the crucifix, Marian image or Scripture verse on the wall to that to-be-read spiritual book on the stack to above all how we nurture the people within and those welcomed in.
The book delves into the need to cultivate silence to help us become better at our relationships with God and others. Personal stories round out the lovely lessons. There is discussion of how “real charity springs from a heart of love for Christ” and what tenderness and care mean within the confines of home, fostering a space filled with the things of life and faith. And there is even a reference to the “thin places” that Emily Stimpson Chapman wrote about in her review of the first volume for the Register.
As a coffee person, I also enjoyed the “Daily Mass and Daily Coffee” reflection, for its last line well notes “that we are made to be in friendship, first with God and then with one another.” This section brought to mind the times I enjoyed a good cup with my grandpa after Mass — blessed memories!
The examples and wisdom of the saints abound in this volume, too, including Padre Pio, Zélie Martin and her daughter Thérèse, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Mother Teresa and Edith Stein/Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, not to mention the supreme example of motherhood and womanhood, Mother Mary. There are also excerpts from such classics as Anne of Green Gables and a section on the scenes of domesticity contained in the film A Hidden Life, which is about the heroic witness of martyr Blessed Franz Jägerstätter and the love he and his wife shared that extended to the life they created for their children.
Ultimately, the book highlights that we discover our purpose at home, as elsewhere, “by following the will of the Author of our lives”; as a writer who has written about the hopeful promise of Jeremiah 29:11, this struck a particular chord with me; such focus is beautifully witnessed in the book’s reflections on holy lives like Mother Teresa — “in her service to God, St. Teresa of Calcutta reflected him, and in seeing her, we saw the source of all beauty.” Yes, indeed.
Like Mary, as we go about our daily duties, may it be said that we, too, “pondered all of these things” and elicit her aid. “At all times seek Mary’s intercession … She will never abandon you,” reminds a handwritten note on a fridge decorated with Marian magnets, as captured in yet another poignant photograph.
Readers will find that a particular sentiment, passage or point will connect with them personally as they make their way through this book, which underscores the necessity of creating a home that exudes love and protects beloved memories of loved ones past and present by using cherished dishes or other “domestic souvenirs,” whether cooking a good meal from recipes near and dear to the family tree or going about the to-do list’s daily tasks.
The little things of home life matter, for they point to bigger truths.
Women of all life stages and circumstances will discover much to ponder here as they go about the true art of homemaking, for it reminds readers that home should be comfortable and foster comfort, pointing all within its walls to heaven while reaping the good harvest of a spiritually grounded hearth and home.