Saturday January 31, 2009

Highlights from Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life
by Margaret Kim Peterson


·        Was keeping house really a waste of time, at best a hobby to be indulged in by people who like that sort of thing and at worst an unpleasant set of necessary chores? Or were there broader cultural and theological factors that made housekeeping seem like all of these things when in fact it was, as I had found it, a discipline as interesting and worthwhile as many other kinds of work? (xi)

·        Of course housework is about making a home, but a Christian home, properly understood, is never just for one’s own family. A Christian home overflows its boundaries; it is an outpost of the kingdom of God, where the hungry are fed and the naked are clothed and there is room enough for everyone. (xii)

·        Keeping house can be a very mundane activity. It is certainly repetitive, and the kinds of work that it involves are varied enough that few people enjoy all of them equally. But at the very same time, housekeeping is about practicing sacred disciplines and creating sacred space, for the sake of Christ as we encounter Him in our fellow household members and in neighbors, strangers, and guests. (xiii)

·        I measured my days by whether, at the end of them, the members of my household had been dressed and fed and bathed and put to bed. If we had been, then that was a good day. I had done what mattered most. (2)

·        …Housekeeping—cooking, cleaning, laundry, all the large and small tasks that go into keeping a household humming along—was not a trivial matter but a serious one. (2)

·        Housework is a beginning, not an end. (3)

·        Housekeeping, in other words, may be mundane, but it is not simple. (7)

·        [Housework was] suspected of not being work at all, even by the men who benefited directly from it and by the women whose lives were consumed by it. (10)

·        God does not appear to think as lowly of housework and housekeepers as members of our culture are apt to. (12)

·        The first commandment (to love God with all one’s heart and soul and strength and mind) always takes precedence over the second commandment (to love one’s neighbor as oneself). But in the paradoxical realm that is real life, it is not possible to love God without loving neighbor, and a primary and essential way of loving one’s neighbors is to feed and clothe and house them. (16)

·        Precisely because human beings are both physical and spiritual beings, even so profoundly physical a discipline as housekeeping has a spiritual dimension. (17)

·        If we are feeling the ill effects of being spread half an inch thick and going a million miles an hour, the solution is not to go ever faster and be spread ever thinner. The solution is to take a deep breath, identify what really matters, and do more of that and less of other things. So what really matters? Well, housework, among other things. It is not the only thing that matters, but it does matter. (18)

·        …Housework forms part of the basic patterning of our lives, a pattern that we might identify as a kind of “litany of everyday life.” (18)

·        Litanies tend to be both repetitive and comprehensive, and in both of these characteristics there is a certain analogy to housework. (19)

·        When we have prayed through a litany, we may not have prayed at great length about everything of concern to us, but at least we have covered the bases. Housework, too, is about a lot of different things. (19)

·        …Repetition, in itself, is not equivalent to oppressive futility. (20)

·        …Housekeeping is part of a tradition that takes seriously the basic, homely needs of people for food and clothing and shelter. These are needs that God takes seriously and that Jesus encourages Christians to take seriously. (20)

·        Christians are admonished by various contemporary theologians to avoid the comfortable complacency of supposing that this world is our true home… But home is not just an eschatological expectation, not just an existential category, not just the object of our deepest longing. Home is a practical, daily reality. (24-25)

·        [Housekeeping is] part of the day-to-day working out of God’s redemptive activity in the lives of individuals and in the world. (25)

·        …Making a beautiful, comfortable home is a Christian thing to do. But what that involves is not necessarily the same as throwing oneself headlong into the world of upscale decorating magazines. Making a home involves constructing and maintaining an environment in which people can flouring in ways in which God desires for people to flourish. (27)

·        To be beautiful, a home need not be luxurious in size or in contents. The beauty of a well-kept home may arise simply from structure and ritual and attention to detail… (29)

·        The reality is that even with modern “conveniences” like automatic washing machines and microwave ovens and vacuum cleaners, keeping house is a lot of work. (30)

·        …Young childhood is just as normal a state of life as adulthood; we just tend to forget that, in our age-segregated society. (32)

·        Precisely because housework is necessary, it is not contemptible. (35)

·        Keeping house is a big job, and we all need help, at least on occasion. (35)

·        How much more conducive to the well-being of the household it would be, both before and after children, if housework and housekeeping were treated as an intrinsic and positive part of life in the body and in community rather than as a set of boring and limiting chores imposed on you by parenthood. (36)

·        If we want our children to develop and enjoy competence in the practices that go into making a home, we will have the show them by our own example that these are things that really matter: they are worth doing, worth caring about, and worth handing on to the next generation. (37)

·        Housework is work, and as such it has characteristics typical of many other kinds of work, including God’s work. (37)

·        When God created the heavens and the earth, He started with chaos and ended with a finely differentiated and beautiful universe. Housework is all about bringing order out of chaos. (38)

·        Housework and gardening and God’s providence itself are exercises not in futility but in faithfulness—faithfulness to the work itself, to the people whose needs that work serves, and to the God whose own faithfulness invites our faithful response. (39)

·        We have all heard the saying “A man’s work is from sun to sun; a woman’s work is never done.” This is a fundamental reason why so much of “women’s work” is construed and experienced as drudgery—not simply because it is repetitive, not simply because it involves manual labor, but because it comes with not time off, ever. (41)

·        Often all it takes to give beauty to a home is that it not be overfilled with too many things of any kind and then that there be just a few objects of special beauty or meaning. (52)

·        [A house] is rather like hospitality itself—part warmly inviting and part unobtrusive and self-effacing. (52)

·        Picking up a house requires that there be places to put things—and then that we put them there. (53)

·        As Christians, we are called to respond differently to abundance. Many things in life, whether food or household objects, are truly good. They are to be treated with appreciation and respect, and sometimes this means saying no to too much. This does not necessarily mean being “less materialistic.” In a way, it means being more materialistic. It means taking material things seriously enough to be willing to get rid of them or to decline to acquire them in the first place. (54)

·        …Standards of cleanliness vary. The meaning of cleanliness varies too. (58)

·        How clean any individual or household chooses to keep a house will depend on many things… And how clean is really reasonable or desirable, given the particulars of your circumstances? (59)

·        A primary objective of keeping house is to make room—room for connecting and reconnecting with other people and with the rhythms of individual and common life: meals, rest, work, play. (61)

·        Clothing, for its part, serves as a symbol of care and protection, beginning with God’s provision of clothing for Adam and Eve in the wake of their sin… (63)

·        Redemption consists not in being restored to some primal, unashamed nakedness but in being finally fully clothes, with bodies that are truly alive and in clothing that is truly glorious. (65)

·        I have a friend who confessed to replacing her husband’s holey socks not because he cared about the holes but because she worried that his socks would reflect badly on her. (67)

·        It seems that many of us would like, if only in a secret corner of ourselves, to be like the virtuous woman in proverbs 31 of whom we read that “all her household is clothed in scarlet.” Their clothes are warm, in other words, and beautiful and substantive, and—best of all—they reflect well on the person who provided those clothes. (68)

·        Wearing, and providing others with, clothes appropriate to the season of the year is a way of living in harmony with the God-given character of our surroundings. (69)

·        Seasonality is about more than weather. Our own lives have seasons to them: childhood and adulthood, singleness and marriage, before children and after children, work and retirement. (70)

·        The way we treat both our bodies and our clothes can reflect our willingness—or unwillingness—to live in the moment, at the particular time and in the particular circumstances in which we find ourselves… God is lord of time; if He gloriously clothes the lilies of the field that bloom one day and are gone the next, will He not also clothe and care for us? (72)

·        …Heaven is all about feasting and… it is therefore an act of Christian faithfulness occasionally to put on tuxedos and formal gowns and anticipate the heavenly banquet… I do get dressed up, on some occasions more than others, and as I do so, I express the truth that my life is about more than me. (74)

·        It is this capacity of handwork to make room for joy, room for grief, room for hope and waiting and process, that makes it so valuable a practice in a world that increasingly has no room for any of these things. …We expect everything to be instantaneous and are indignant when our e-mail takes more than two seconds to arrive in its recipients’ in-boxes. But life is not instantaneous. (80)

·        Cooking, cleaning, laundry—these things are necessary and important and perhaps more lasting, at least in their effects, than we tend to give them credit for. But it is important to make things too—things to wear and things to use, things to keep and things to give, things that can remind us of our own essential physicality and of our links to past and future generations. (81)

·        Gather up the clothes from all over the house. Look at the stains; wonder if they can be gotten out. Wonder if it matters. Sort, wash, dry, fold. And then report at the end of the afternoon that this is how you spent your day. Does it have to be this way? Is laundry so different from other kinds of work that it cannot be seen and experienced as worthwhile rather than worthless? (82)

·        Christian reflection on work emphasizes the value of work that serves the bodily necessities of those around us, the ways in which work can bring people together as they learn from and care for one another, and the pleasure in a job done well as people imitate God’s own persistence in perfecting his creation. (83)

·        Laundry is a work of providential care; mending is restorative or healing; ironing is an act of perfecting. (84)

·        Laundry may no longer be as physically demanding a task as it was in past ages, but it is still time-consuming and needs to be deliberately women into the structures of our days and weeks. (90)

·        The bigger the job, the more it needs internal structure to be manageable and pleasant. (92)

·        …There is a kind of perfection that ironing serves. Linen tea towels dry the dishes just as well unironed as ironed, but they lie stacked on the shelf and hang over the oven door handle so much more nicely if they have been ironed. Permanent-press shirts may not really have to be ironed, but they look nicer if they are. (97)

·        …It is important to put things away. Putting away things that get daily or weekly use is a way to exercise a kind of providential foresight. We will, in fact, need these things. (100)

·        Our needs are not a perpetual emergency but are anticipated and provided for ahead of time as a matter of course. (100)

·        “Food is so daily.” Jesus Himself, as He taught his disciples to pray for daily bread, acknowledged as much. (103)

·        Jesus does not only feed people. He sits down and eats with them, and every time he does, we learn something about who Jesus is or who His companions are (or both). (105)

·        Serving God faithfully, these words [in Matthew 24:45] suggest, is like feeding a household; it is a daily responsibility that requires attention and diligence and that brings blessing on the one who does it faithfully. (105)

·        Few crises compare with being hungry and having nothing to eat, and few acts of care compare with being fed when one is hungry. (107)

·        Eating and not eating are related, just as sound and silence are related in the making of music. If you have only sound, then what you have is not music but cacophony. You need silence too, at least in some of the voices some of the time, if you are to have music. Good eating likewise requires that at least some of the time we not eat, and that we make a habit of eating moderately rather than to excess. (109)

·        Many Christians today continue the practice of saying grace, and many more would readily agree that thankfulness is a proper attitude with which to receive one’s daily bread. … It can be easy to find ourselves resenting the time that it takes to shop for food, to cook, to eat, to clean up. But it can be precisely as we resist our culture’s encouragement to rush through preparing and eating food and instead take the time to cook and to eat that we show our thankfulness for daily bread, even as we may also say our thanks before we partake. (111)

·        …Cooking does matter. It matters in part because of the nature of food as gift. … Cooking can be a way of actively receiving the gift of food and actively participating in handing that gift on to others. (118)

·        When we cook, we produce things to eat, of course, but we produce something else too: acts of care. (119)

·        Cooking is something that naturally overflows its boundaries, that leads to there being leftovers to share with someone, a pot of soup that can stretch to feed a guest or two, an extra loaf of bread to give to a neighbor. (119)

·        …If we make realistic plans, shop for quality ingredients, and take adequate time to prepare them, we can make real food that truly satisfies. (120)

·        Food and eating are at least as much about social relationships as they are about nutrition. (121)

·        The simple act of eating together is perhaps the most fundamental of all the ways in which food can express and foster the community that God desires should exist among people and between humans and God. … There is a sense in which [after Genesis] the rest of Scripture can be seen as an account of God’s efforts to get humans back at the table with each other and with Himself. (123)

·        Feeding a household and its neighbors and guests is a big job, in others words, one that ebbs and flows with times and days and seasons but that continues from day to day and from year to year. It is this never-ending quality to the job of feeding a household that can make it seem like such a burden. … At the same time, it is precisely this ongoing need that makes feeding a household akin to the providential work of God. (127)

·        Most meals are everyday meals, but some meals are—and should be—feasts. (128)

·        …Meals that express their joy in God’s present grace and their hope in His future and ultimate faithfulness. (128)

·        A meal is a feast not because any particular amount of money has been spent or any particular level of sumptuousness achieved, but because time and care has been taken to make this meal as event that all around the table can celebrate together, taking pleasure in the food, the company, the occasion—all of which, in their own way, are foretastes of the kingdom of God. (128)

·        …Meal planning is a skill that is honed by experience; the longer you have been at it, the more instinctive becomes your approach to it, until you are able to make many of the decisions involved without consciously thinking about it. (129)

·        Everyday food is about moderation. (130)

·        Real cooking, it seems to me, happens on a stove or in an oven, where dishes can be stirred and aromas can escape and the cooking process is accessible and invites, even requires, interaction with the cook. (133)

·        The properly Christian delight in created things… ought to characterize our relationship to food and cooking. It is glorious that there are such things as onions and even more glorious that people have figured out how to make things like French onion soup out of them. One of the ways that we can express our delight in God’s good gifts is through a wholehearted willingness to cook and eat real food made with real ingredients—like onions. (134)

·        Good tools are part of the cook’s delight. (134)

·        …Holiday cooking is for the household cook as running a race is for an athlete—an occasional, strenuously exhilarating event, in contrast to the kind of regular exercise that takes place from day to day. (136)

·        The point of cooking is to feed people, and so no meal is truly finished until it has been eaten. The food exists for the sake of the meal, and those who eat are just as important participants as those who cook. Sitting down at the table is as significant an act as setting the food on the table; eating with appreciation is as much an art as preparing food with generosity and care. (137)

·        The kitchen is not, perhaps, the first place that we might think of as being one of those joining points of earth and heaven. Dishwashing itself, though, is a kind of liminal task; it takes place at the edges of things, as we finish one meal and set the stage for another, as we wash dirty pots and pans and glasses and plates and put them away clean for their next use. (141)

·        …A kitchen is meant to be dynamic rather than static; you equip a kitchen so you can work in it, not so you can look at it or bypass it on the way to the microwave. (143)

·        How much better it would be if we were to respond to the needs of the body not with resentment or denial or suspicion but with humility and compassion and thanksgiving! (149)

·        No one needs to be the diva of domesticity or the queen (or king) of clean. What we need is to do the best we can with what we have. (150)

·        We have ideas about what we want to be doing, or think we ought to be doing, that are simply overambitious. And it is easy to be overambitious because there is always something more that you could be doing. (151)

·        The day’s own work is sufficient for it; tomorrow will bring its own opportunities. (153)

·        When small jobs are woven into the fabric of daily life—a floor swept here, a wastebasket emptied there, a bed made soon after its occupant has gotten out of it—then the work of making a home and the pleasure of living in a home are intertwined, rather than being experienced as separate from—or worse, opposed to—each other. (153)

·        …This is the stuff of which human life is made. Things do not go as planned; they always take more time than it seems they should; they have to be done twice when it seems that once should be enough. (155)

·        People need dinner even on good days, and on bad days they need it even more. (155)

·        A well-kept house… is a house in which it is safe to be hungry (there is food in the cupboard), safe to be tired (there are places to sit and places to sleep), safe to need clean socks (there are some in the drawer, and if they all happen to be in the hamper, someone will put in a load of wash soon). (155)

·        The Christian community is not a spiritual club; it is a household, God’s own household (Ephesians 2:19), whose very sacraments are physical acts evocative of home: a bath and a meal. (163)

·        Our aim in keeping house cannot therefore be to do so “perfectly,” because that is someone else’s job (namely, God’s). Our aim is much more modest: to practice “good enough” housekeeping. None of us needs a perfectly kept home. Indeed, we are likely to find homes that seem to be perfectly kept rather off-putting. But we all need homes in which the housekeeping is good enough, in which basic needs are provided for rather than neglected and in which welcome and care are routinely and cheerfully extended to both members and guests of the household. (164)

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