Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hallowing the House: The Four Walls

"Finding Freedom in the Bonds of Love"

I drafted this post a couple of weeks ago, but maybe it's timely to post it on St Joseph's feast day!   St Joseph could be thought of as the "four walls" of the Holy Family (through the grace and strength of God) --protecting them, watching over them, bringing the "four walls" with them wherever they had to go, to Bethlehem, to Egypt, to Nazareth.

You've heard the story of the Japanese girl relocated to a camp during World War II.  When asked by a reporter how it felt to be brought away from her home, she pointed to her mother and father and said, "they are my home."  

The word "bond" is a phonetic variant of "band" and comes from a word meaning "householder" or "dweller".   Interesting if true!   As for bound, there are apparently several different derivation, one meaning to be, or exist or dwell; another meaning "limit".

All of these meanings are evoked by the idea of the four walls of a house.   Walls enclose a dwelling place, a place to be; they also by definition imply some sort of limit or enclosure.

I looked up "hold" and it derives from a word meaning to "keep, tend, watch over."  

Thomas Howard talks about how "bonds", fetters as if of a slave, can become bonds of love, which are freedom.   Another paradox here -- limits are freedom, and bonds of relationship and obligation actually help the individuals within a family develop to their fullest extent.

As dwellers or householders we tend and watch over those we are responsible for. ... we make their needs into our own.   In fact, looking back at St Joseph and the little Japanese girl's insight, you might say a house is a physical outgrowth of the family bonds -- the shelter, safety, intimacy and privacy of the four walls are an embodiment of what God has designed a family to provide organically. 

Howard talks about how our very lives are owed, in every way, to the mystery of My Life for Yours.

 "I owe my life to you, and I lay down my life for you."  No one has ever drawn a single breath on any other basis,.... no one has ever sat down to the smallest pittance of food that he did not owe to somebody's life having been laid down.... no one has ever learned a single thing that he did not owe to somebody's having taught him or helped him in one way or another. 

Yet the sacrifice is freeing. ... by "laying down our lives", by dying to ourselves in the daily activities of our homes, we are opening doors -- we become free to ignore the petty reckonings and legalisms of colder ties:

"Love opens onto a vastly more splendid order of things; and the forms of love at work in an ordinary family are like introductions to this splendor."

GK Chesterton writes memorably about the family:

The supreme adventure is being born. There we do walk suddenly into a splendid and startling trap. There we do see something of which we have not dreamed before. Our father and mother do lie in wait for us and leap out on us, like brigands from a bush. Our uncle is a surprise. Our aunt is, in the beautiful common expression, a bolt from the blue. When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world that we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale. 
 John Paul II writes in Familiaris Consortio:

The family is the first and fundamental school of social living: as a community of love, it finds in self-giving the law that guides it and makes it grow. The self- giving that inspires the love of husband and wife for each other is the model and norm for the self-giving that must be practiced in the relationships between brothers and sisters and the different generations living together in the family. And the communion and sharing that are part of everyday life in the home at times of joy and at times of difficulty are the most concrete and effective pedagogy for the active, responsible and fruitful inclusion of the children in the wider horizon of society.

I can't immediately see how "bonds" can become "freedom".  ... how dying to ourselves can be the way to life.   Of course I know it is true because our Lord said it.   But when I think of it, I suppose it is because the worst slavery is always slavery to oneself.   Surely no one is as petty, bitter, unreasonable, demanding as oneself when acknowledging no obligations to others.

Thomas Howard speaks of the freedom of a lover -- how within the arms of the beloved one finds a space bigger than the universe.  This is the very thing, made into sacrament by God, that is the founding space, the "household" or "dwelling place", of the family.   It is not invulnerable to the problems of the world around it -- even the Holy Family had to flee from Herod's soldiers, and as for the rest of us, every family even has some of the world's soldiers camped inside the very souls of its members.

Yet there is freedom within the bounds of a house -- freedom to be private, to be intimate, to be convivial, to be different, to be ordinary.  One is protected, one is challenged.  Love does both, or all.  

1 comment:

  1. When I was a missionary kid, my folks said, "Home is where the van is." Which was short, of course, for "home is where we all are." It worked for me then, and does now too.

    It also reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Bujold's Vorkosigan series, where Aral says, "My home is not a place, it is people, sir."


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