I watched my mailbox every day for two weeks, eagerly anticipating the arrival of Sarah Clarkson’s new book. Finally, finally, it came. I set aside the book I was reading for my book club (hardly a sacrifice as I found it tedious and annoying) and happily ensconced myself on the sofa with a cup of tea and Sarah’s book. Very little in life is better than tea, a good book, and a sofa. Throw in a fire in the grate on a rainy or windy grey day, and life is practically perfect, even when it isn’t.
And that’s a large part of the point of Sarah’s book. Co-written with her mother, Sally, The Life-Giving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming is all about home as a refuge from the storms of life. It’s about living well by loving well. It’s about creating a corner of beauty and peace and hope right where we are. It’s about making home a beacon of love and light to which we can always return no matter how far we travel…or stray. And it’s about welcoming others into that circle of light and love.
Though Sally and Sarah didn’t use the term, what they’re talking about is what Elizabeth Goudge calls The Monastic Ideal:
“That’s the monastic ideal,” said Judy, “and I’ve always thought it rather selfish—a creeping away from life.”
“Then you have misunderstood it,” he said. “The monastic ideal is a core of sanity in a loathsome world, a core of sanity that spreads. Again and again men have gone into solitude to create beauty, and the beauty, created, has revolutionized a whole country.”
Judy was still unconvinced. “But if nothing can get through the mountains to contaminate your Utopia, how can the beauty you create get out into the world?”
“If you light a bonfire in a sheltered valley the protection makes such a huge blaze of it that those outside see the whole sky lit up.”
Long before I read Goudge’s words, I had tried to live in this manner. Partly that is temperament: I am an introvert, I process change slowly and with difficulty, and I become easily overwhelmed by too much sensory stimuli. But partly it is the loveliness of the vision: to create something so good, so beautiful, so desirable that people will see it and want to be part of it strikes me as the very heart of the Gospel.
And it is this picture of home that Sarah and Sally so compellingly paint in their book.
In a culture that worships efficiency and idolizes volume, it is easy to think we are wasting our time when we make a meal for our family. After all, it’s only feeding six people. It is easy to dismiss family reading time as unimportant; we’d reach more people if we televised it. And it’s tempting to banish beauty to the ash heap as a frivolous waste of time, energy, resources, everything.
But God does not give a rat’s hind end for efficiency and volume. In fact, I’d bet ready money that God cares more for a rat’s hind end than He does for the ephemeral nonsense we (myself included) waste our lives chasing. We don’t need to “expand our influence,” friends, or “reach more people” or run our lives like “lean machines.” That is not what life is about. And it’s certainly not what the Christian life is about. The Christian life is about love, and love both requires and creates relationship.
Christianity is a religion of relationship: the relationship of the triune Father, Son, and Holy Spirit within the Godhead; the relationship of God and each human soul; and your and my relationships with each other and everyone who crosses our paths. And since relationship is the core of Christianity, it of necessity forms the core of Sally and Sarah’s book, for the whole purpose of creating a refuge from the storms of life is to foster relationship, a place for human flourishing, a place for belonging and becoming.
What Sally and Sarah do in this book is to cast a compelling vision of what a home can be. I have always loved Sarah’s writing for the way it expands my vision, freshens my spirits, renews my resolve, and fills my soul with both longing and determination. She paints a picture that I want my life to reflect. And that is as true in this book as in her others. In her sparkling prose, home becomes a living thing, an outpost of beauty in an ugly world, a haven of rest in a culture of hurry, a beacon of hope in a firestorm of despair. And I want it. I want it badly enough to work for it.
And work for it we must. I work hard to keep our home from being overrun by screens and hurry and hustle and the harried pace of the broader culture. I often feel like I am the little boy holding back the sea with his fingers. I sometimes wonder why I insist on living this way. It is lonely here by the dike.
Then I read a book like this and I know that I am not alone. There are others like me, people for whom the Monastic Ideal holds a beautiful place in their hearts, who are working to create a small oasis of beauty and peace, a home culture of kindness and goodness and love, who choose to live slowly and intentionally. I am grateful to Sarah and Sally for writing this book. It helps me feel part of something larger than my one little house with my small circle of friends and smaller family. It puts words to the path I have instinctively chosen and provides a map for further travels on this road. It splashes color and life and joy across the canvas of home and says, “See? This is what it can be like! Join us!”
Last month, on Epiphany, we prayed a blessing over our home and marked our door with chalk:
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Christus Mansionem Benedicat. Christ, bless this home. In this new year, bless all who enter, all who leave. May it be a shelter and a haven for everyone who crosses this threshold. May it be a place of love and faith, where Your Spirit sheds abroad the hope of Christ.
Those chalked numbers and letters over the door remind me that home is where we start from, and if home is full of loving welcome, we carry that loving welcome with us wherever, and to whomever, we go.
If you want to create or deepen a culture of belonging and becoming in your home, I highly commend Sarah and Sally’s book to your reading pleasure, and it is a pleasure, a delight. I do have one caveat, though. This book is the culmination of 30 years of lived experience. Please do not expect to replicate it in the next month, okay? Life-giving homes, like anything else worthwhile, aren’t built in a day or a week or even a year. They take time.
The book is laid out in twelve chapters, one for each month of the year. I strongly recommend reading one chapter a month; there are so many wonderful ideas in these pages that you will quickly become overwhelmed if you try to truck through in a week or two as I did. If you’re like me and want the lay of the land, read the introduction to each chapter and save the “In Our Home” sections to read slowly, one each month.
However you choose to read it, I do hope you will read it, especially if you still have children at home. To increase the odds that you will, I am happy to say that I have a copy to give away. Leave a comment over the weekend and I’ll enter you in a drawing come Monday.