Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The concept and reality of "home"

As a child of the 60's, I have had a love-hate relationship with the concept of domesticity. I was of the generation of women who found it an absolute duty to have gainful employment outside the home. I scorned the idea of homemaking as a valuable use of time. But I also bore and raised a passel of children, and wanted for them the stability and warmth of a reasonably ordered domestic existence. I wanted a home that reflected the reality of the Christian orientation to life. But I did not want religious sentimentality.

Sr. Margaret Charles sent me a manuscript titled Sacred Dwelling: An Everyday Family Spirituality to read and write about for the Pauline Life and Soul magazine. She said parts of it reminded her of me.

Indeed. This is a book I wish I'd found earlier in life. The author is Wendy Wright. In the first chapter she addresses her readers directly:

'Very few of you are smiling all the time. Most of your families are scarred to one degree or another by death, disease, alcoholism, … lack of communication, quarreling between generations, quarreling with in-laws. Most of you find the fabric of your relationships stretched unbearably by the pull of contemporary life. You are stamped with the violence and the jaundiced view of human society that is reflected in the media. You are oppressed by the pressures of succeeding, overwhelmed with financial worry, seduced by a consumerist view of ultimate happiness, absent from one another’s lives because of the sheer number of commitments forced on you by jobs, schools, peer and collegial pressure, duty or the desire for some sort of personal enhancement.

Despite all this, most of you will also look to your home and family as a primary source of nurture and meaning. You will accept the idea that home in some way represents (or should represent) a foundational experience of caring community.

I think this is not just an unfounded and culturally induced illusion. Both philosophically and psychologically the concept of home has been explored as a powerful and primal image in the phenomenology of the imagination, a concentration of the entire psyche, our first universe. Child psychologists, when they want to ascertain the self-image of a young client, will often ask the girl or boy to draw a picture of a house. The home as an image can reflect a sense of identity and meaning-making that contains within itself a clue to the way we understand ourselves and our world.

… We experience home as representing the American myth which gives expression to our collective longings for a stable, caring environment and community… At the same time, we also recognize the current reality of our own homes and families.

There may be considerable disjuncture between these sets of data. But this gap need not be uncreative. Nor, I think, should we be deterred from looking at our unidealized life-situations as potential windows through which to touch and be touched by God’s presence. While our “real” homes may not always conform to our “ideal” homes, there is a profound relationship between the two.

By this I do not mean to suggest that we imagine ourselves as other than we are. This is not a book that will attempt to articulate a spirituality out of the experience of the “perfect” or even the clinically “functional” family. After all, an authentic spiritual life assumes that we start exactly where we are, not in some unattained ideal realm. God cannot find us in any place other than the one in which we find ourselves.

But neither is this a book that ignores the profound spiritual yearning in each of us to “come home”, to realize the “more”, both the “more” of what we would want our families to be and the desire for “more” that spurs our religious seeking.

Within this lived tension our spiritual lives are cultivated: the tension between the factuality of our daily lives with their monotony, opaqueness, limitations and sorrows, with occasional moments of insight and beauty, and the equally factual but less realized soarings of our hearts. “Home” for each of us is at the lived center of this creative tension.'

Will you, God, really live with people on earth?
Why, the heavens and their own heavens cannot contain you.
How much less this house that I have built…
Listen to the cry and the prayer I make to you today.
Day and night let your eyes watch over this house,
Over this place of which you have said:
“My name shall be there.”

- 1 Kings 8: 27-29

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