Sally and Sarah Clarkson’s book The Life-Giving Home has been on my radar for a couple years now. I decided it was time for a deep-dive read and blog series about it. I hope to read and journal (here on my blog) about each chapter as I go. The book is divided up by months in its chapter structure, which lends itself to a blog series rather nicely. I hope that regardless of your life stage and situation, you can glean something from the wisdom on the importance of home to a human heart.
The Life-Giving Home: March
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike. -John Muir
Idealism, at heart, is about hope. And so is seeing beauty. P. 84, The Life-Giving Home
This chapter of The Life-Giving Home is an excellent primer on a spiritual understanding of pursuing beauty. Sarah Clarkson unfolds for us a gentle theology on pursuing beauty in a Christian’s life and home life. For me, the chapter was a great reminder on why we as human beings crave order, peace, and beauty. We were created for life in a garden; the Fall broke this existence dramatically. As Tolkien puts it, “We all long for Eden, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of exile.”
Beauty also points forward to the day when creation will be redeemed and fully restored by the return of the Lord Jesus. As Sarah says:
To cultivate beauty is to act in keeping with my faith in God’s goodness rather than my doubt. It means to fight tooth and nail, day by day, to keep alive my faith in a love that transforms the ordinary and, in that transformation, offers a glimpse of a one-day, ultimate redemption. (p. 83)
Now, if you’re like me, you read a chapter like this and immediately want to set about reinventing your life and that of your family from cellar to attic. Clear it out! Reorganize! make everything beautiful immediately! Quick! I’ve been doing this all wrong!
Not so fast, Sarah cautions us:
…beauty in home life — beauty on the level of the kitchen table, the child’s bedroom, the back porch — is something at which we often stumble. What we miss in these surface things is an understanding of beauty not as veneer we apply to the surface of our lives or an ideal only to be attained by the extraordinary, but as the tangible, daily outgrowth of the spiritual values we hold most deeply. We miss, in other words, the reality of incarnation, the truth that God created the physical world to house and express the spiritual. (p.81-82)
Yes — the physical world should reflect the beauty of the spiritual. But that looks different for each family, each season, each person. It doesn’t mean we live in a museum. It means we value truth and genuineness over a false veneer of meaningless, flashy, fleeting ideas of what is attractive.
As I revisit what this looks like for our life here, I’ve found it helpful to think on another book I’m reading, Andy Crouch’s Culture Making. In his chapter entitled “The Horizons of the Possible,” Crouch supplies the reader with five questions for evaluating any cultural artifact and how it fits into the broader cultural context. Whether we are thinking on the interstate highway system, lasers, cornbread, smartphones, or Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, or the culture and cultural artifacts that exist within our home life, we can ask the following questions:
- What does this assume about the way the world is?
- What does this assume about the way the world should be?
- What does this make possible?
- What does this make impossible (or very difficult)?
- What new forms of culture are formed in response to this?
The first two questions are especially helpful to me when I think on time spent, habits, routines, art, music, and other factors in our everyday existence in our home. This doesn’t mean every piece of music in our home expresses the Gospel from beginning to end. In fact, it means that my husband points to a Peter Gabriel album as a better expression of the despair and brokenness of the Fall than most Christian music. Why? Because it expresses the truth of divorce and despair in all its ugliness. It fits into question #1 quite well — and even #2. At the same time, we don’t wish to stay there. Reminders in music of the hope of redemption, Christ’s return, and the current beauty that surrounds us even in Earth’s fallenness — these also feed the soul.
How do you think about culture in your home and how it expresses (1) where and who we are and (2) what we hope for? I’ve loved this reminder from Sarah Clarkson to continue to press on in my pursuit of beauty here at home — not a Pinterest-perfect existence, but living in the spiritual, physical realities that Christ has made true here and now, and in the time to come.