April 25, 2017

Marilyn Rodrigues: The beauty of home and a decluttered heart

Flowers on a vintage desk. PHOTO: Marilyn Rodrigues

Almost a third of the year has slipped away already, and the earlier sunsets prompt us to make use of the day while it lasts. The cooler days pull many of us towards the rhythms of home.

I’m often at home during the week so my days are usually punctuated by a load of laundry, hung out in the morning, and folded and put away by dinner time; a quick, warm, lunch with whoever is home, or at my desk; a check on the pot plants; maybe a walk around the block in the evening; and dinner with the family all together; and an hour of reading or playing a game before bed.

A day spent at home like this can be as soothing as a spiritual retreat. But then, some days at home are awful. It’s not rare to have a Saturday when everyone’s sick or bored, or fractious (or all three) and the day passes in a blur of chores and driving around with nothing really accomplished and not much fun having been had either.

But even if my day’s offering has been smudged all over with bad temper and worse by bedtime, I have to trust that God will find something decent in it – especially when I can’t and no one else around me can either. What we see of Martha and Mary that day He came and stayed for dinner is very different – and Jesus loved them both very much, even though he had to kind of tell off Martha.

I brought two lovely new things home this week. One is a vase of the best roses from my mother’s garden for Naomi, for her birthday. The other is a second-hand, rolled-top writing desk.

Finding space for the roses was easy, but I might retire some other furniture to make space for the vintage desk and reconfigure the layout of a couple of rooms. A bit like in the spiritual life: some gifts are easily and gratefully received; others require painful adjustment. All are beautiful.

Bishop Greg Homeming of Lismore gave a series of Lenten talks which are available on the diocese’s YouTube channel. In his talk on St John of the Cross and beauty, he explained how we humans find something to be beautiful because God first considers it to be beautiful, and that when we are greatly moved or transported by the beauty of something, we are sharing something of God’s own delight in it.

It reminded me of moments such as the birth of each of our children, which – while not pretty – were certainly some of the most beautiful moments of my life so far. My husband and I completely forgot ourselves in rapture over seeing each little person for the first time. No wonder! We were caught up in a ‘moment’ alongside God in mutual enjoyment.

Saints, theologians, popes, and other writers have explored the relationship between God and beauty, and the way we can be drawn deeper into love of God and others through contact with authentic beauty.

I’m not a theologian. I’m primarily a wife and mother, so my first task is to try to enter into this in practical ways at home with my family. This is often where I must search for God and find God, and one way to do this is by developing my sense for the beautiful – in creativity, art and music, in liturgy and scripture, in conversations around the dinner table, or in hanging out the laundry on a warm autumn day.

Beauty can be soothing and maybe this is why the decluttering trend is so enduring. It’s pretty easy. If too much in life and the world seems difficult and ugly, I can make myself feel better by appealing to my appetite for aesthetics by getting rid of household clutter and showing off some nicer stuff.

That’s what I’ll do to fit my new desk into place. But I will also try to remember one of reasons I wanted the desk: that when I sit down to write I acknowledge how much more necessary – and harder – it is to remove all the clutter within myself, to make a better space for God who is real truth, goodness, and beauty.

All of the clinging to ugly habits of thinking and doing will have to go somehow or other. This Eastertide I want to start to make room for the beautiful – inside and out. Not just what looks and feels pretty, and not just for the feeling of being transported, but to be transformed.

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