Most days on this country hill are a blur. With every line in my planner filled, there’s also the background music of laundry and continual cleaning. In the winter, there’s a voracious wood stove; in the summer there’s a garden that needs constant attention. Of course, at the far right side of this equation of work and home, there’s a family that knows they’re loved and a home that is well-lived in.
The steady thrum of activity is the glue that holds a home together, and it is one of the most startling discoveries of my life that it is possible to find a fulfilled and meaningful existence in the midst of mind-numbing routine. It turns out that it’s not what you’re doing that makes a life. It’s why you’re doing it.
The importance of home and the words of Scripture that shape a right understanding of home are reason enough to spend two weeks pondering Jen Pollock Michel’s Keeping Place. Last week in Part I, we laid the foundation of God as Homemaker and the Bible as a story of homecoming, welcome, and longings fulfilled. In Part II, Jen lifts her eyes from her own lunch-packing duties and makes this stunningly succinct observation:
“To love is to labor.”
She goes on to trace the connection between the routines of domesticity and the “quotidian mysteries” of spiritual practice. Just as the swiping of crumbs off the dining room table will never be a once and done affair (at least at my house!), neither are the practices of spiritual formation. In tending to the health and wholeness of our souls, every day there will be “crumbs” that need brushing away, and this is a good thing, for it keeps us mindful of our creaturely dependence on God.
In the parlance of Keeping Place, “housekeeping” corresponds to a term found in the Hebrew Scriptures: ‘avodah. It shows up in the contexts of “work, service, labor, duties, ceremony, [and] ministry . . . It is also the word that signifies the priestly work of the tabernacle and temple. ‘Avodah reminds us that worship — and its attendant calls to vocation — can share the banality and ordinariness of everyday work.” (116)
Labors of Love
It is, therefore, possible to draw important conclusions about the nature of worship and the importance that hands-on housekeeping plays in the ebb and flow of a well-balanced Christian life:
1. Just as Jesus is portrayed as the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53, the believer is called to a life of “two -dimensional” servanthood, directed toward God and offered to our neighbors.
2. The “yawning attention” (131) paid to the details of tabernacle construction in Exodus also points toward care and provision for worship — a house for God. In referring to my “home church” for the past twenty years, I have spoken truer than I realized. The welcome and belonging that my family has appreciated there has strengthened us, and, furthermore, we do our fellow parents a huge favor when we reinforce the same messages that they are speaking to their young charges at home. In fact, research is revealing that “the most important predictor of whether children from Christian families keep their faith into adulthood is the number of multigenerational connections they enjoy at church.” This statistic should be on a billboard at planning meetings for youth ministries.
3. Housekeeping is an act of generosity. In the early church, one sure sign of a conversion to Christianity was a commitment to generosity and mission. When Jesus put the spotlight on acts of service performed by the Good Samaritan, He underscored the truth that “a neighbor is the one who takes up the housekeeping.” (142)
4. With marriage rates in the U.S. falling (In 2015, only 50.5% of adults were married), it’s time to look at the reasons why people marry and to equip prospective brides and grooms with tools for doing the routine work of marriage — frequent application of the words “I’m sorry” alongside the daily willingness to “keep choosing love’s bearing, love’s believing, love’s hoping, and love’s enduring all things.” (155)
5. Keeping Place is a matter of being willing to welcome others into “our place.” Gathered around the welcome of a prepared meal, no matter how simple, “the table is a burning bush. Around the feast we are enflamed with the presence of God.” (163) And is it not God’s way to spread a feast before His people? We meet around a table and “the feast preaches” the gospel to our hungry and thirsty heart.
6. The idea of Sabbath precedes the Ten Commandments in Scripture, and is connected from the outset with housekeeping: the provision of manna in Exodus 16 is scheduled to make room for Sabbath rest. As the Author and Finisher of Home whose Son bore our homelessness, God has instituted practices of housekeeping that draw His children into the hands-on love. Mercy, justice, and sandwich-making hold equal real estate in the values system of heaven, for the God who works and has worked on our behalf invites us to join Him in the Great Work:
“Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us,
yes, establish the work of our hands.” (Psalm 90:16,17)
Let the work of housekeeping continue, and may we find fulfillment in the smallest task performed for the greatest worship of God.
This book was provided by InterVarsity Press in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Last week I spent time interacting with Part I of Keeping Place (click here to catch up) in which Jen laid a foundation with the history of home and the place home plays in Scripture and in our understanding of the gospel. I’ve so enjoyed Jen’s robust theology and elegant prose that it’s been a delight to linger over her words for two weeks.
If you are interested in hearing Jen’s voice and more of her story, check out this Q+A with Ashley Hales or this twenty-minute interview.
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