On This Shelf: The Life-Giving Home

Note: “On This Shelf: An Affirmation of Vocation” has lain dormant for more than a year. We’ve welcomed a fourth baby in that time and, while I have less time to write than ever, I somehow always find time to read. Heretofore, then, I’ll devote “On This Shelf” to book reviews. I begin with “The Life-Giving Home” by Sally and Sarah Clarkson because it is, quite spectacularly, “an affirmation of vocation.”

“The world is thy ship and not thy home,” says St. Thérèse of Lisieux. As a panic-inducing pandemic sweeps the globe, this fact is well worth remembering. We have always been and will always be subject to illness and death — but this mortality need not be a cause for despair. The very doom that stalks us also summons us to hope, for, as C.S. Lewis once so memorably put it, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the most logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” On this earth, the insatiable desire for life meets death at every turn — unless and until we understand this time on earth as a pilgrimage and death as a passage into new life.

Then, even on this earth, we can find rest and refuge. As we travel light, holding the things of the earth loosely in our minds and hearts, cleaving to the Creator, placing ourselves lovingly at the service of the bright eternal souls that surround us, sudden vistas of suggestive beauty will greet our tired minds and refresh our weary bones.

Very often, these glimpses of the eternal will appear, paradoxically, at home.

So, yes, the earth is not our home, but — our earthly homes are a sign of the homely, habitable, capacious satisfaction that is to come when, after death and only by God’s grace and mercy, we will at last behold Infinite Beauty. If we both love and fear to be at home, then, it is because we both like to taste of belonging and yet also itch to escape the depth of our yearning for a still deeper communion. The homes that are most effective, though, are precisely those that invite us not to escape, but to acknowledge and to enter into that yearning, to go “further up and further in” to the very desires that can only begin to be satisfied here.

Mother-daughter writing duo Sally and Sarah Clarkson understand this, and, in their resonantly joyous book, “The Life-Giving Home,” they articulate an incarnational understanding of home as a privileged place of encounter with the tangible and intangible goodness of God. To the Clarksons, home is a thoughtfully-worded, personally-penned invitation to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

If that sounds impossibly cerebral, overly spiritualized, or, worst of all in our present circumstances, incompatible with the kind of good old-fashioned family fun that would make an extended quarantine not just sufferable but pleasurable, then you haven’t met the Clarksons. With a heady blend of poignant reflection, experienced consideration, and refreshingly practical advice, Sally and Sarah join voices in an ode to home life that proves irresistible — and devotes more than a few verses to fun.

In “The Life-Giving Home,” tea and candles, hymn sings and hayrack rides, movie marathons and spa nights, breakfast devotionals and bedtime rituals, quiet reading and raucous adventuring, and, above all, ongoing jubilant feasting receive fitting tribute as sources of inspiration, connection, and comfort. Sports alone, perhaps, receive short shrift.

If you grew up in a home where these things were already present, the book evokes happy, nostalgic nods, as well as ecstatic, hopeful planning for the future.

“It really is possible to create the kind of home I want for my children!” I found myself thinking, time and again, as I read the book. Possible — both because I experienced such a home myself as a child and because the Clarksons have not only paved a way, but provided a map — for those like me and for those who might not have experienced home as a source of life and nourishment as a child.

Own this book as an index of unfailingly specific suggestions to incarnate love in your home — but read it — especially its early chapters — to be reminded of why you’d go to the bother to make a home in the first place.

As Sarah writes in her chapter “The Rhythms of Incarnation”:

“When you understand the reality of incarnation, the way that the physical trappings of our lives and our use of time and space are places where God either comes in His creative presence or remains at bay, you understand that nothing is neutral. Nothing. You can’t just waste an hour on the Internet. You can’t just miss one sunrise in its beauty. No room is just space. No hour is meaningless. No meal is mere sustenance. Every rhythm and atom of existence are spaces in which the stuff of life can be turned marvelously into love. …

Homemaking requires a willed creativity, a conscious diligence, because we are called to create new life and challenged to do it in the midst of a world that actively resists us in this endeavor. …

The tiniest flat or the biggest mansion can be home because, you know, each home is a world. It is the possible space into which the Holy Spirit, through us, calls a world of order, color, love, and life into being. We are challenged by the Incarnation to make our homes a small cosmos of God’s Kingdom, one more outpost of eternity right in the midst of time.”

Who wouldn’t want to create just such an outpost — especially at a time such as this?

***

If you like this book, you might also like:

“Splendor in the Ordinary” by Thomas Howard

“The Little Oratory” by David Clayton and Leila Lawler

“Theology of Home” by Carrie Gress, Noelle Mering, and Megan Schrieber

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