Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Keeping House: The Litany of Every Day Life, by Margaret Kim Peterson

Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life has to be one of the most thought-provoking books on keeping home that I have ever read (and was, in fact, part of the inspiration behind Living Like a Narnian.) A friend of mine from church kept telling me I really ought to read it and I kept saying I would and that I wanted to. At the beginning of the year I finally told her I'd take the time to read her copy and once I cracked open the covers I seriously wondered what was wrong with me for having taken so very long to get to this read! As I told some people, if I were in the habit of saying that certain books made my soul sing, this would have been one of those books and one of those occasions! It really made my soul sing!

It isn't a book about being a wife or keeper of the home. It isn't about organizing your closet or making a delicious dinner. It also is all about those very things and why they are so important - whether you are married or single, have children or are an empty nester. It is a book about housework and why "having to" do it should not be viewed in a negative light. Quite the opposite in fact! It is positive encouragement to tackle the laundry with joy and gladness, with plenty of good Biblical examples as to why this should be so. Author Margaret Kim Peterson is straight-forward, easy to understand and completely practical.

Instead of telling you why you should read this book, I'm just going to quote from it. This is not a book I have thoroughly thought-through and applied. It is in the process of being mulled over. Perhaps some of these quotes will cause you to give pause and give thanks for the daily chores which are full of meaning, even when they disgust us. I hope I never clean a toilet bowl in the same way again.

So what really matters? Well, housework, among other things. It is not the only thing that matters, but it does matter. It matters that people have somewhere to come home to and that there be beds and meals and space and order available there. Whether we do a lot of housework or a little of it, whether we keep house only for ourselves or for other people as well, housework forms part of the basic patterning of our lives, a pattern that we might identify as a kind of "litany of everyday life." (Chapter One, What's Christian About Housework, page 18)


"Children themselves benefit from being made part of the team that does the housework. Children long for connection with the real things of the real world, for work that is real and satisfying and that can help them become creators and producers rather than simply spectators and consumers of the labors of others. When we take time to teach a child to crack an egg or set the table, when we allow a child to fold the laundry or wash the floor, when we respond to the contributions of children with appreciation rather than criticism, we encourage the child to see himself or herself as a worker and a contributor to the economy of the household." (Chapter Two, A Place to Live, page 36)


As one writer* notes, "The front door of the home is the side door of the church." (Chapter Three, Sheltering a Household, page 45)

*I cannot tell from the notations who the writer that she is references is.


"Wearing, and providing others with, clothes appropriate to the season of the year is a way of living in harmony with the God-given character of our surroundings. We all know small children who resist wearing a jacket when it is cold out and have to be reminded that in winter, we dress for winter. But adults can find this a challenge too. I read a newspaper article once about a fashion trend that involved adult women wearing short, thin dresses in the middle of northern winter. I don't remember how these women were said to have avoided frostbite, although presumably they didn't spend much time outside in these outfits.

Fashion statements like these may seem trivial - why should it matter what people wear in the cold as long as they're happy in it? But if a person's choice of clothing seems to reveal complete disengagement from the climate in which she lives, what does this suggest about that person's degree of connection in other aspects of her life? The more our clothing relates us directly and comfortably to the specific times and places in which we live, the more likely it seems that we will be able to relate directly and hospitably to the other persons who lives touch ours." (Chapter Four, Clothes to Wear, page 70)


"Handwork is an art that binds people together across generations.

. . .

The things we make can also form bridges between individuals and generations.

. . .

It is this capacity of handwork to make room for joy, room for grief, room for hope and waiting and process, that makes it so valuable a practice in a world that increasingly has no room for any of these things. Many of us have less and less experience with anything that unfolds over time; we expect everything to be instantaneous and are indignant when our e-mail takes more than two seconds to arrive in its recipients' in-boxes. But life is not instantaneous. It takes time, and handwork can be a way to weave temporality and process back into our lives." (Chapter Four, Clothes to Wear, pp 79-80)


"Is laundry so different from other kids of work that it cannot be seen and experienced as worthwhile rather than worthless? Christian reflection on work emphasizes the value of work that serves the bodily necessities of those around us, the ways in which work can bring people together as they learn from and care for one another, and the pleasure in a job done well as people imitate God's own persistence in perfecting His creation." (Chapter 5, Clothing a Household, pp 82-83)


"As we thus obey and imitate Christ in caring for people in these basic ways, we remember Him and His ministry and presence among humans, and we anticipate the day when we will see Him face to face in God the Father's house. Remembering both Jesus and Eden itself, longing for Paradise, living faithfully with one another between the times - these are the things that people do at home. As we participate with one another in the litany of daily life, we foster these memories and these hopes." (Chapter 8, The Well-Kept Home, page 165)

Yes, I will be returning to this book many times in the future, I'm quite certain.


Barbara H. said...

I hadn't heard of this, but I like books like this that inspire me in everyday life.

BerlinerinPoet said...

Hmmm, I might even want to read this one. And my mom would definitely want to, I think.

Taia said...

It appears that you go to our church. You are welcome to borrow my copy if you wish.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

This sounds good, Carrie! (Anything to make housework more appealing. . . . :-) )

Sky said...

I appreciate the quotes and your comments, I am putting this book on my list to read!

BerlinerinPoet said...

@Taia: Thanks! And I do go to your church. I'd love to borrow it.

Bluerose said...

I've seen this one before and it caught my attention, but I don't remember where. It's definitely going on my reading list now, though. It sounds like something I really need to read!

Janet said...

This sounds like a terrific book -- good reading for someone in my time of life!

*carrie* said...

Thanks for the review, Carrie. As I told you, it's been on my list for a couple years now!

Diary of an Autodidact said...

I like the encouragement of the inclusion of children in housework. I know it takes longer with little hands, but it really can be a bonding experience. For me, the bonus that my daughters are FAR better about remembering what gets washed on the cold cycle has been great. As we work together on the "fabric of daily life", we find ourselves talking about things from the mundane to the profound. Perhaps this is what "quality time" really means.

Lisa Spence said...

Ok, so I'm intrigued. Clicking over to amazon to add it to The List.

Thanks for the recommendation!

Stephanie said...

This has been on my wishlist for a while! May have to move it up a notch or two. : )

Shonya said...

Hmmm, this sounds intriguing (certainly more so than the Hunt book!). I wonder, have you read Edith Schaeffer's book--the Hidden Art of Homemaking? I wonder how it compares. . .

Stephanie Kay said...

I don't know, Carrie. This book kinda sounds like another guilt trip to me. One that would tell me not only should I feel guilty for not keeping an immaculate house but now I should feel guilty for not finding pleasure in the housework that I do complete. :)

Taia said...

The author is a professor of New Testament studies and her husband uses a wheelchair. It doesn't sound like she has an immaculate house. I e-mailed with her and she's from near where I'm from in Iowa. She was widowed in her first marriage (book is Sing Me to Heaven) so I don't think housekeeping reaches the level of "guilt-inducing"- she has bigger fish to fry.

Carrie said...

@Stephanie - What Taia said. And if you feel guilty after reading this one I have to say that it's probably because an attitude adjustment really IS needed. (Yup, that's what I think! ;D

This book didn't make me feel guilty at all. Rather, it caused me to think of the "daily grind" in a different way - so that I didn't loathe it, but instead find beauty in it.

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