Books I Love: Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life by Margaret Kim Peterson

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Please don’t judge a book by its cover because…not cool looking.

I’ve had this book on my shelf for ages — a gift, I think, from my parents, and I finally tackled it this spring. Boy, am I glad I did. Peterson opens with a series of questions I find myself asking:

“But why was it that not a single other one of them had made the choice I had, to keep house with more than leftover bits of time? Was keeping house really a waste of time, at best a hobby to be indulged by people who like that sort of thing and at worst an unpleasant set of necessary chores? Or were there broader cultural and theological factors that made housekeeping seem like all of these things when in fact it was, as I had found it, a disciple as interesting and worthwhile as many other kinds of work?”

Peterson equates thoughtful, conscientious, imperfect housekeeping with caring, a core Christian precept. She argues, “[H]ousekeeping is about practicing sacred disciplines and creating sacred space, for the sake of Christ as we encounter in our fellow household members and in neighbors, strangers, and guests.”

She calls out the isolation of contemporary society, noting “[W]e think it is normal for people to be by themselves and make an exception, as it were, for spouses and young children. But the movement in scripture is toward community, not separateness, and the bonds of community in scripture go well beyond those of the nuclear family.” Her observations highlight the growing conviction I’ve had since first encountering Wesley Hill’s musings on tumblr concerning the obligation of Christian marriages to expand the scope of their households.

Her observations also point to the rude wake up call I received when we had kids and I moved from full-time to part-time to no-time outside employment. Housekeeping had been just something we managed in the cracks of our lives before the huge upset that is a first child, and while we strove to have a cozy home to which we could comfortably invite friends, it wouldn’t have been something we listed as a major part of our lives. She argues, “How much more conducive to the well-being of the household it would be, both before and after children, if housekeeping were treated as an intrinsic and positive part of life in the body and in community rather than as a set of boring and limiting chores imposed on you by parenthood.”

I still struggle, over a year into being home full-time, not to feel like my housework is somehow un-hip, shamefully old-fashioned, and degrading. Peterson offers useful context, here as elsewhere, however: “But if in Jesus God himself could take up a towel and wash other people’s feet, surely we, as Jesus’ adopted brothers and sisters, can find it in us to wash one another’s dirty clothes and dirty dishes and dirty floors.” Amen, sister.

 

The bottom line, of course, is simple: “How much more hospitable it would be if our homes were routinely to be places filled with satisfying meals, with shirts warm from the dryer, with smoothly made beds — not because we are trying to win the housekeeping prize but because these are good and pleasant ways to care for one another and for ourselves!” I would do well to remember this myself.

 

 

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Author: Katherine Grimm Bowers

Babies. Books. Fledgling housewifery. Once and future librarian. Catholic. Always thinking about chocolate ice cream.

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