Monday, May 2, 2011

Hallowing the House: The Kitchen

I can be dense sometimes, so it's taken me all this time to realize that in Splendor of the Ordinary, Thomas Howard is not really talking about the house per se.  He is teaching life lessons through the metaphor of the house.    So really perhaps, as I look at these areas of the house, cleaning them and organizing them to fit our family's need, I have the opportunity of thinking about what these rooms can teach about the Christian economy  Indeed I have been doing this to some extent, but maybe now I can do it more intentionally.

We arrive at the kitchen now.   The life lesson is "Find joy in humble service."    The kitchen is not usually a front room of the house.   Sure, sometimes in wigwams or tiny Irish cottages, the cooking area and eating area and living room are basically all the same thing, but as our houses grow, we tend to separate the three (except in my house, which is like a Viking Hall for introverts, as I explained last week -- the kitchen, dining room, and living room are all part of the same space and we tend to gather around and read books together as we eat).  

But when we are in the kitchen, whether it's in the front room or not, we don't make a big display of what we are doing.    What we want people to notice, as we prepare the meal, is the finished thing, not the preparations, not the messy counter or food-covered pots and pans.   We do want those who eat to appreciate our work, but as a "fait accompli".  In some ways it is similar to art -- my mother in law is an artist, and she has no problem inviting people in to her studio as her works are in progress, but the completed thing is the object.   This is true of service, too, which seems to tie service in with art in a way   

The essence of service is preparation and clean-up, Howard points out.  And presentation.   How thought-provoking!  I had never quite noticed that before, but it seems true.    Service works around the edges of the main event, whatever it is   It makes it possible, it accomplishes it, and then it stands aside. 

Yet, paradoxically, service is at the center, even though by its nature it is truest when it is hidden and quiet and subordinate to something more obvious.   There is an analogy for this -- the human body.  The working organs are hidden.  The more valuable and necessary they are, the more hidden they are.   The heart, the brain, work in private.     We see the skin and outward appearance, and recognize that, but other things work to make that outward appearance possible 

So perhaps it makes sense that the kitchen, in the typical hosue,  works its way into a central but as much as possible set-apart location.   The kitchen in a way is the heartbeat of the home.   I always feel most like a housewife when I'm in the kitchen.   Sometimes that bothers me, sometimes it makes me happy, depending on how things are going with my inner self (and sometimes how things are going with how I feel I am being respected by the men and boys in the household).  But either way, it is where I feel most directly connected to this aspect of my role 

Parents serve their children, and children learn to serve their parents and over time, become of service in a wider field.   It is probably similar to what Pope John Paul II says:   Parents sanctify children and children sanctify parents  There is a reciprocality here.   Family life makes this natural and possible.  

Howard points out that ceremonies (which are made possible by preparation, service) are often to honor service.   We celebrate a returning soldier who has served his country; we celebrate graduation with academic honors; we crown a king, meaning that we set him apart for a high, rigorous service.

The secular world doesn't tend to see it that way.  Howard uses the person of Pilate.   In Pilate's perspective, governors and rulers have power, which is a zero-sum property.   If one person has more, that means that others have less.   Those in power rule and make decisions, while those without power suffer and obey.

Christ turned this upside down.   The King of all Creation, He become poor, He suffered and obeyed.    While Caesars imagined that they were steering the course of history, it was in a quiet, hidden family in Nazareth that the real world changes were taking place.    Christ says that it is the poor and humble who will lead.   In some ways this takes place daily -- the powerful are fragile in their power; they are dependent.   In daily life, service springs out of capability  

And the hiddenness and obscurity are not just accidents of service. They are part of the very nature of serving.   Service that is not quiet and unobtrusive and tactful is no longer service.  Service naturally wants to be in the shadows, to present the product of the service rather than be discovered in the act of preparation or cleanup.

This is true even when a child brings it to our attention:  "Mom, look what I did!  I swept the kitchen for you!"   The truth is that the child did an act of service, but service is a prerequisite to Ceremony and Celebration, as we have already mentioned.  It is no shame for a child to celebrate the end effects of his service, any more than it is shameful for a cook to be proud and happy that his meal has been enjoyed and appreciated by those he prepared it for.  He wants the result to have the effect he intended it for, and he goes about making sure that happens.   Everyone naturally wants to hear
Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'

As humans, we often are in the position of serving those who are not intrinsically our superiors.   Howard discusses this.  In our society, things tend to be politicized, so service seems to imply inferiority.    The Christian order is different.  Jesus makes this very clear when He washes His disciples' feet   Service is part of an economy of love.    We serve our children because we love them and we hope to teach them to serve, too.   When we are employed in some form of service, which most of us are nowadays in our interdependent economy, we serve out of desire to make a difference to others' lives by our excellence, to provide for those we love, and to serve God.     Ceremonies are often celebrations of distinguished service, or so they should be.


  1. "which is like a Viking Hall for introverts"

    hahaha...maddelyn, sarah and I loved this!! It's true!!! :)))))

  2. yikes...sarah is logged in. Sorry!!


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!