‘Housekeeping’ as a spiritual discipline?

July 23, 2013 — Leave a comment

housekeeping1I actually enjoy some parts of “keeping” the house. I’ve always shared the tasks whether growing up, or in a house of guys or with my own family. (I have a running joke with a friend of mine who consistently stops by when I’m cleaning or vacuuming, troubled that I’m making him look bad!)

Haven’t you noticed a measure of satisfaction – or even a “smile” from God when the house (or car) is shining, or your office desktop becomes visible, or you just clean up your own mess? There is something about housekeeping chores that “keeps” US grounded and helps push back laziness, apathy, and self-indulgence.

This all became more alive for me as I was reading a chapter in a book on early Christian spiritual life by a local Brown professor, Susan Ashbrook Harvey. (It’s called To Train His Soul in Books: Syriac Asceticism in Early ChristianityHarvey is an Orthodox Christian and scholar in the exploding field of Early Christian Studies. I met with her a few years back, so when I spotted it in the new books section of the URI library, I checked it out. The title of her chapter is Housekeeping: An Ascetic Theme in Late Antiquity. Here are just a few excerpts:

“My purpose is to ask how housekeeping as opposed to housebuilding – contributed (to) … sustained self-maintenance (in the Christian life.)

The Scriptures frequently use household imagery (e.g. 1 Cor. 3 & 6.) The human body is spoken of as the Temple of God – “a holy place in which the Holy Spirit should dwell, and which ought accordingly to be kept clean of defilement and worthy of its purpose.” Jewish writers spoke of adorning and preparing our “house” for God in greater ways than we would for the entertainment of Kings!

The texts of the early Church Fathers and Mothers stressed continual discipline often using the household images: “The housekeeping cited in these texts is not the light maintenance work of daily dusting and sweeping, but rather the hard drudgery of a thorough spring cleaning. It represents the periodic effort to take serious stock of one’s condition: to take everthing apart in the cleaning process in order to put it back together again with shining freshness. The ascetic self, engaged in a daily discipline, could yet acquire the buildup of unwanted sentiments or emotions or passions. A thorough, harsh cleaning scrubbed the ascetic back to a fine and proper dwelling for divine habitation. (p.152)

One comment noted in the essay: John Chrysostom (4th cent.) challenges male monks and celibate households to do their own hard work of housekeeping rather than hire women to do it for them!

[NOTE: A somewhat more accessible and similar read is by Kathleen Norris – The Quotidian Mysteries. It’s short and is also included as a chapter in her larger book, Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life.

Q – How may God want to use the daily, ‘housekeeping’ activities in  your life to draw attention to the disciplines of discipleship?

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