Monday, February 21, 2011

Hallowing the House: Doors

There is a paradox here, of course:  if what goes on inside a holy place has any validity at all, then it will flow out and hallow everything else, and that would seem to need an open door.  But on the other hand, outside things must be excluded, not in the sense of consigning them to worthlessness, but of furnishing for them a place to which they can be brought, and from which blessings can flow out to them.  -- Splendor in the Ordinary

I mentioned that I was getting stuck in the entryway of the book Splendor in the Ordinary.   I think the passage above sketches out the paradoxical nature of a door which was mixing me up the more I thought about it.  .  A door shuts and opens.  It allows things in or keeps them out.  This seems too obvious to be discussed;  Still, offhand I can't think of another household artifice that is so ordinary, yet with two functions that are both necessary and seemingly opposed.

The apparent contradiction in a paradox usually indicates a bigger unity, doesn't it?   In this case, Thomas Howard seems to show that the door is closed so that it can be opened at the right time.  Without a possibility of staying closed, there can be no opening.  We are talking about a power that enforces decision, for better or for worse.   The same act can have different meaning depending upon what is admitted or shut out. 

This door is for closing and for opening.  To slam the door in the face of a suppliant is not the same act as closing the door after you as you welcome the stranger in from the tempest. old beggar woman came to the castle
In the prologue of the movie Beauty and the Beast, the prince shuts the door in the face of an old beggar woman, who is really a powerful fairy.  As a result, he is cursed with an outer ugliness to match his inner heart.   The turnaround comes when he inadvertently hosts a stranger in a tempest; and even though it takes longer for his heart to match the courtesy of his household appliances, in the end his involuntary hospitality is turned to love.   What he allows into his house and his heart transforms him.

Howard says that there has to be a "here" to say "come in here."    Our inner "here" is reflected in what we welcome and what we deny admittance.   You see that in many Bible passages (I'm going to list some in a separate post because otherwise this would get too long).   God tells Cain to guard the door so that evil will not enter into him.    Later, Jesus tells us to "knock, and the door will be opened " indicating Our Lord's radical choice to accept us even in our tattered, beggarly state.   Later still in the Bible, Jesus shows Himself as seeking us out, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock,"  In all these ways, a door opened or closed implies choice and preference, "On this day I have chosen you,"

Thomas Howard makes another point.   Once, our first parents walked among the hallows with clear sight.   They chose to know evil, to admit it into their being, and now their descendants have darkened vision.    He says that we still walk among holy things, that the things around us are signs of things unseen, but we are often blind to their true significance.

For this reason, it takes effort to make our minds and hearts and spirits feel the true sacredness of ordinary things.   Sacredness of ordinary things sounds cliched or paradoxical at first glance, but perhaps the term concerns something I've been more aware of recently..... the reality of the invisible.   Whereas material things seem more real to us than supernatural things, because we perceive the former through our senses, the truth is that the material world is nothing if not a reflection of the invisible Reality.   The chapter emphasizes this.  I was reminded of monasteries, which are carefully planned to bring out the spiritual importance of ordinary things.   Work, study, hospitality and prayer are hallowed by being consecrated and ordered towards God.  The life of a monk would make no sense to someone who thought in purely material terms.  Yet when monasticism is lived rightly, it gives evidence of "things not seen".   Even where it is baffling and mysterious, it is a sign that there is something there that is figured in ordinary things, but is directed beyond them.

Our homes have, or should have, somewhat of this same intentionality and mysterious significance, and in this way a door is a friendly guardian, obedient to our will, which goes beyond its physical dimensions.   It opens to welcome the wayfarer, it closes to keep out tempests that will batter the things we are trying to shelter and preserve.

"See what goes on here is a small picture of what ought to go on everywhere.  It doesn't go on everywhere, but your task is to see it does here. ...Be faithful."
Ordinary things like working, eating, playing and loving become invested with significance by being consecrated to God.   So what is behind that entryway door is in a way bigger than what is outside.  It is magnified, even actualized, by repetition, by love, which has a consecrating effect. 
Holy things are ordinary things perceived in their true light....
This is very much what John Paul says in Familiaris Consortio, which I have just been reading. 

He points out that we are not alone in this project.    This point is also made in Treasures of the Snow, which I recently finished reading to my boys.   When we let Jesus into our hearts (and by extension into our lives, which are most deeply involved in our homes), He brings in the light, and the dark goes away.  But of course we may still have to work, to make room for Him.   There may be only one door leading into our heart and soul, but I find within myself, anyway, that I am always discovering little crannies and closets that still are barred to Him.  Sometimes it takes time even to find where  these hidden rooms are, let alone find the handle that opens them.   But His Light reveals it to me.  

There's a parallel there to a family house.  Even if the house is dedicated to Our Lord Jesus, sometimes things remain that aren't compatible with His Presence, and it takes time to discover them and get rid of them.  In modern life, which changes so fast and hardly recognizes sacredness, it is even more difficult.   But we have His Light and His promise to help us.

So I think my puzzle has to be solved through prayer.   Perhaps if I look at everything with an eye to whether the Holy Family would find it welcoming or not, I will have a good way to sort through what's within the main door.

This week I think I am going to tour through all the doors of the house!  I know they could all use some scrubbing and disinfecting (the boys can help me with this) and I also know several of them need some repair.  That will give me a chance to think about when a door should open and when it should close, what it should invite in and what it should keep out!  If anyone else has doors with missing handles or in any other way wants to join in, you are welcome to leave a comment!

No comments:

Post a Comment

I would love to hear your thoughts on this!