Have you ever heard the phrase, “bloom where you are planted?” I suppose that applies to us moderns, planted squarely in the 21st century with all of its technology, activity, and constant going and getting and coming back from. I don’t eschew technology, nor activity, nor going and getting, but they do begin to overshadow days when they’re not guarded. 21st century or not, we’re still called to moderation in enjoying all of these goods, and perhaps now more than ever, we must learn to guard our homes – just as our medieval ancestors guarded their castles against too much intrusion. For home should be a haven of truth, goodness, and beauty. It should be filled with ritual and routine, order and delight. And it cannot be any of those things if we’re never in it, or so distracted that we’re never really present to the people that inhabit it – our families.
Let’s read through this together
About 12 years ago I picked up a book, Splendor In the Ordinary by Thomas Howard. I had no idea then that the ideas within would trickle into my imagination and weave through all my thoughts on home, the atmosphere I cultivate, even how I decorate and order spaces, and how I view everything ordinary. My senses and the ordinary were elevated. Mr. Howard’s book helped me understand the need for order, helped me recognize the beauty in something ordinary like organization, the supernatural value in exercising hospitality, and that the sacrificial beauty of my-life-for-yours can lift the ordinary into a place of beauty. I read and re-read this book, but it has been holding down a place on my bookshelf for far too long. It’s time to re-read it and refresh my ideas and thoughts. And, I’d love it if you read along with me! I can’t promise you a regular pace of posts (although I really want to!!) because I don’t have all the posts in this series built yet. But I can promise you that we’ll thoughtfully consider each chapter, starting today with Chapter 1 – the Household. I will come back and update this post with links so that the post can serve as an index to the entire series.
Though this is an easy book to read, the ideas here need time to sink into your thoughts and walk with you through your spaces so you begin to prayerfully consider the splendor within your ordinary. Take your time reading and considering – there is no pre-set pace! I also highly recommend a notebook alongside your reading. When I read this book for the first time I took away many ideas – practical and philosophical – that I wanted to consider further and act on.
Let me share a couple of technical details about this book.
- It was originally published in 1977 under the title: Hallowed Be This House. (out of print and difficult to find)
- In 2000 it was reprinted by Sophia Institute Press with a new title: Splendor In the Ordinary: Your Home As a Holy Place. (out of print but still easy to find – this is the copy I own)
- And in 2012, Ignatius Press reprinted it a 3rd time, with the original title – Hallowed Be This House: Finding Signs of Heaven In Your Home. (currently in print with a beautiful foreword by Peter Kreeft)
All three books contain the same content although covers and titles vary. Truthfully, and of absolutely no consequence to this discussion, I much prefer the cover to the current 2012 version but the title to the 2000 version, Splendor In the Ordinary. Because in truth, that is what this book is all about. In any case, whichever copy you have will work fine if you’d like to read along. There are 9 chapters and I’ll attempt to tackle a new chapter each week. I’ll post some of my own introductory thoughts, ask what I hope are thought-provoking questions to help you brainstorm and apply these ideas, and you are invited, encouraged, and welcome to share your own thoughts in the comments.
It could be helpful while reading to keep Mr. Howard’s perspective in mind. Originally written at a time in Thomas Howard’s life when he was an Episcopalian (after having been raised in an Evangelical home) and on the road to conversion to the Roman Catholic Church, this book stretches toward a universal truth that I think reaches all. (Read more about Mr. Howard’s conversion story here – his story is inspiring and I particularly enjoyed the books that he appreciates that inspired him – many are also my favorites, from Knox to von Hildebrand.) Having discovered that sacramental rites and liturgical rhythms actually bring us closer to Christ (See his book: Evangelical Is Not Enough) Mr. Howard shares through the pages of his book, Splendor In the Ordinary, how every room in the home – every ordinary space and experience – is a place to encounter God’s grace.
A word about my perspective
I am a wife of close to 25 years. I’m a mom to 5 children. I homeschool my kids. I make home. I enjoy organizing creatively and planning as a way of stewarding the gift of time. In short – I’m in the trenches. Our days are anchored to the truth and beauty of the Roman Catholic Church. Her liturgical rhythm and rich traditions are woven into our ordinary. When I read this book 10 years ago, my family was still quite young and I was eager for a richer and deeper vision in making home. Now, I write as a mom with a daughter who is married and delighting in making her own home while I still have children in every other age and stage present at home – from high schooler to preschooler. The atmosphere of our home over the last 10 years has developed – somewhat organically, but mostly intentionally, and was influenced in large part by this book. So my perspective is one of revisiting an old and very dear friend.
This book is about home. It is about the sense of the sacred within each room of our home. Perhaps parts of it may challenge you or your way of thinking. Perhaps it will challenge mine. But if you long to embrace the idea of home as haven and full of the ordinary that stretches out onto mystery, this book is for you! What I will share in each of these posts is less of a book review (think: “he said this, and I think this.”) and more like thoughts on various themes within each chapter. These are just my reflections having re-read this book after allowing it to inform my imagination for the past 10 years. And the goal in sharing is to prompt you to read and begin imagining, too.
Please join in whenever you like – there is no set schedule! Start reading at the beginning and follow along from there! I’d love it if you’d like to share your thoughts in the comment box along the way!
- The Household <– you’re here!
- The Door
- The Four Walls
- The Entryway
- The Living Room
- The Dining Room
- The Kitchen
- The Bathroom
- The Bedroom
The Household – Chapter 1
Throughout all of history there have been places set aside as hallowed, or holy. Think of Moses taking his shoes off in the presence of God in the burning bush and the shrines of the Middle Ages. Sadly, modernity has eroded this sense of the sacred. We live in such a scientific and technological age that everything must be understood, known, explained, statistically quantified. Stripped of mystery, and certainly no sense of the sacred, we’re left with a shallow, superficial mask that skims the surface of a hideous under-culture. And it makes it exponentially harder for us to consider ourselves as daily “carrying on the commonplace routines of our ordinary life in the presence of mighty mysteries.” (Splendor In the Ordinary)
The stripping of mystery from the every-day isn’t the only stumbling block. We face other challenges, too. Clutter. Stuff. Activity. So much of it that we’re never home to breathe in the quiet, to consider prayerfully, to live with enough margin that we can freely and joyfully engage our family. And yet. That’s what we want, isn’t it? The reality is that we do live in a modern age and life does come tumbling down the pike at a pace that is sometimes fast. We could put on blinders and over-shelter or move to some remote corner of the earth, but I would argue that that solution isn’t genuine, nor does it offer any service to the children in our care who will one day have to step across the threshold of the safe harbor of home and jump into the fray. No, our answer will have to be one that models stewardship while prudently guarding that which should never cross the threshold of a domestic monastery.
The ordinary as sacrifice
The trouble is, we’ve lost not only a sense of the sacred but also the need to sacrifice. From Abel’s pleasing sacrifice, Abraham’s tested sacrifice, to Our Lord’s ultimate sacrifice – we have always been called by God to offer sacrifices. And if I’m to offer sacrifice in my day, I’m going to have to start thinking of the kindling and flint I can gather to burn – the dishes, the lack of sleep, the repetitive chores, the 849-gazillionth load of laundry, the setting down of something good to be attentive to a person, the meal I’m preparing, the cross I’m carrying, the time I’m stewarding. I always joke that my path to sanctity goes through the laundry room, but it’s true. In the very ordinary parts of our day, we find the necessary means to offer sacrifice and encounter grace.
Order | Bells
Thomas Howard speaks without hesitation on the activity and clutter that seem to permeate modern homes and the secularization that has extinguished our sense of sacred. Activity and clutter threaten to snuff out any sense of quiet time to breathe in life, to contemplate prayerfully, to be joyfully present to a child, a husband.
St. Benedict offers us two examples that I think can be edifying as mothers – order and bells. I should be clear – we cannot and should not replicate a contemplative monastery in our homes. As wives and mothers, we live an active vocation, and our vocation requires different “rules” than St. Benedict offered his monks. It would be wrong to long for the order and quiet of a contemplative monastery – to do so will undercut contentment in a New-York-minute. The rhythm of home will be different (and louder), and our call to prayer will be different (and louder), and all of it will be good because we work out our path to holiness through this vocation – the one that goes through the laundry room. Having said that, I do think that if we look at principles, we can find some ideas worthy of translating into the home – our domestic monastery.
Brace yourself!!! There is a need for order in the home. God is a God of order – not of chaos nor confusion. I’m not talking about perfect, matching baskets lined up and labeled in sequence, I’m talking about the kind of order that results in good stewardship and a space that one can exercise hospitality – to family and friends. Because all that extra stuff causes “visual noise” – the eye trips over a pile here and a stack there every time it looks through a room or a space. Order reclaims quiet and simplicity.
And yes, there’s some organization involved. But let go of fantasy-order and embrace reality-order. You know, the kind of order that may ask you to organize in empty egg cartons and shoe boxes! Use what you have – get creative (my favorite organizing containers are usually glasses from my kitchen cabinet or the thrift store)! Because if you do, contentment will provide a peace and joy for what you have carved out!
You’re establishing order in your home – with your children, your husband, in your season of life, within your means. Don’t look around and give in to the comparison trap thinking that someone else’s iteration of order is more perfect, or prettier. This whole comparison thing is such a thief when it comes to creativity and contentment so don’t let it in here, ok? Work within your lane – the lane God put you in – and carve out reasonable order.
- DECLUTTER: You should not be drowning in stuff. We’re each blessed with material things that can assist us in our vocation – if it isn’t assisting you, let it go. Detach. Let it bless someone else’s home. We’re approaching Advent – there is no better time to declutter your home while you ponder the poverty and sweetness of the Holy Family that night in Bethlehem.
- ORGANIZE: The material things that do serve us in our vocation are blessings to steward. That means managing them, and to some extent organizing them so that – we can find them when necessary, we can loan them when asked, and we can allow them to enrich our family.
Consider for a moment the bells that ring in a monastery. They call the monks to the next thing in their day, and obediently, at the sound of the bells, the monks get up and attend to the next thing. This is done so that the monks of a monastery will order their day with purpose and will see that God’s plan, not theirs, is the path to holiness. A friend shared (in a facebook group I’m in) a beautiful idea she heard – that our children are our bells, calling us to the next thing. I would take that a step further – our husband, our children, the ending buzz of the dryer, the timer for the oven – these are all bells – these ordinary daily duties. They call us to the next thing. We rebuild culture by doing the next thing. If life is so noisy and frantic and feverishly paced, how will we hear our bells so that we, too, can get up obediently and live out God’s plan for the day?
Here are a few questions from this chapter I’m leaving for you to consider. Ignore them entirely, keep the answers to yourself, or share some insights here! This part is entirely optional. I shared my thoughts above, but I think questions can sometimes do more to help me brainstorm than anything else!
- Do you find it difficult to think of your home, and the rooms in it, as hallowed/sacred?
- If you consider your home as a hallowed place, does that begin to change the way you think of your ordinary duties?
- Are there one or more ordinary duties that you find especially challenging to view in this light?
- Does your current level of activity drown out your “bells” – the call within your vocation to do the next thing?
- Does your day have enough margin (free time) that you’re able to engage your children?
- Have you considered your ordinary duties as the kindling necessary to offer sacrifices to God?
Is the ordinary holy?
“Ordinariness in a word, opens out onto mystery, and the thing that men are supposed to do with mystery is to hallow it, for it all belongs to the Holy One.” (Splendor In the Ordinary)
The ideas from this chapter began to turn everything – every action, attitude, and thought upside down for me. And I began to look at my ordinary in a different light, bathed in mystery, and capable of expressing great beauty!
So, together, let’s go with Mr. Howard from room to room and discover what this can look like. And especially what that looks like in very real, and practical terms. I’ll be back and we’ll open the floor to discuss Chapter 2, The Door. Do we slam it closed in the face of outside culture? Or do we fling it open it in hospitality? Grab a cup of something warm and join me!!!