Thursday, March 11, 2010

Keeping House by Margaret Kim Peterson

I just finished reading Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life, by Margaret Kim Peterson. I liked it very much, and thought I'd share a bit from it.

Her thesis is that keeping people clothed and fed is something that Jesus endorsed as a worthwhile activity (she quotes the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25), and so it is an honorable activity that can be engaged in for the love of Christ.  She says, 

"There is undoubtedly more to the merciful service that Jesus describes in Matthew 25 than caring for the daily needs of the members of our own households. Housework is a beginning, not an end. But it is a beginning - not a sidetrack, not a distraction, but a beginning, and an essential one at that - in the properly Christian work of, among other things, meeting the everyday needs of others . . ."

That's why I like this book so much. It doesn't, like some I've read, exalt housekeeping as a glorious, high thing. It's not. But it is necessary, and produces real goods, and so ought not either to be despised.  This book does a great job of placing it in its actual place, and honestly, it was a relief to read someone who got its place so exactly right. As a women who spends hours every day doing exactly the sort of things she talks about (cooking, cleaning, cleaning up after), it was encouraging to read a short, lovely treatise that affirmed that what I do is good and worth doing, and why.

I disagree with a few of her points here and there - occasionally the tone feels a wee bit snobby - but overall, this is a book that does an excellent job in having a real opinion, but also showing grace to those who might be in different circumstances than the author, and so might have to make adjustments she does not have to make.

Here are a couple passages that really stood out to me. She talked about how people sometimes view housework as divided  into two cateogories: the creative (e.g., sewing pretty curtains) and the janitorial (e.g., scrubbing the toilet). She says:

"On the contrary, all of housework is creative, including the so-called janitorial part of it. When God created the heavens and the earth, he started with chaos and ended with a finely differentiated and beautiful universe. Housework is all about bringing order out of chaos. that heap of damply repulsive clothes on the bathroom floor turns into stacks of neatly folded laundry in a matter of hours; a dining table piled high with junk mail, school papers, and forgotten socks turns into a table neatly set for a meal; a sack of potatoes, properly peeled, boiled, riced, and seasoned, turns into a dish of mashed potatoes that the individuals assembled around the table are happy to eat."

Isn't that beautiful? And so true. A little later, when observing that after creation, God continued to be involved in the universe he made - not just creating, but sustaining - she says,

"Housework and gardening and God's providence itself are exercises not in futility, but in faithfulness."

I think that's my new housekeeping mantra: "This is not futility; this is faithfulness."

And the book is full of observations like this, the kind that feel absolutely familiar when you read them, but that you know you've never been able to say so well yourself:

"But if there are places to put things and it is simple and convenient to put them there, then picking up the house becomes a kind of active meditation, like putting a favorite puzzle together and seeing the familiar picture - the tidy house - appear anew."

And I'll end with my favorite part:

"The good news of the gospel is that the longing for home need not be merely nostalgic. Home is not just a real or imagined memory. Home is also a promise made by god to his people . . . The Christian community is not a spiritual club; it is a household, God's own household (Ephesians 2:19), whose very sacraments are physical acts evocative of home: a bath and a meal.

       "A well-kept house thus possesses a kind of sacramental quality. It is no substitute for either the kingdom of God or the church. But it is a kind of foretaste of the kingdom. A nuturing and hospitable home can be a reminder that god has always been in the business of making a home for people, that God desires that people should have the food and clothing and shelter associated with home, that one day our tattered and partial provision of these things for one another will be gloriously supplanted by God's perfect provision of shining robes and a sumptuous feast in God's own house."

This is a very good book, and well worth reading and - I'm guessing - rereading. 

peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell


Amy said...

I read this last year right before my baby was born and just wasn't in the right place to receive it. We'd moved across the country and I was 8 months into a high-risk pregnancy. I was struggling just to create some sort of order and sense of home for us. Thanks for such a good review to return to the book again as the content is close to my heart as you say, "the kind that feel absolutely familiar when you read them, but that you know you've never been able to say so well yourself." RJ works with the Petersons at Eastern and they were one of the first to reach out in welcome to us.

MomCO3 said...

My friend recommended this awhile ago, and-- like Amy-- I wasn't in a place to receive it. I just read Cofnessions of an Organized Homemaker (Denisse Schoefield) and found it lacking a why among all the how-tos. Thanks for the recommendation. Now would be a good time for me to read this.

Jessica said...

Amy, it's so neat to hear that she's as kind in real life as she seems in the book.

And to you and Ann - I can surely understand not being in the right place for a book like this. I'm glad I didn't read it right after we brought the twins home.

SarahLee08 said...

I saw this on another blog and thought it sounded interesting. With your review, I now have to check it out! Thanks for the info. :)

wayside wanderer said...

Great review! I have had this sitting in a pile of books to be read for a long time. I can't wait to get to it.

Sherry said...

Thanks for participating in the Saturday Review at Semicolon, and thanks for your kind comment.

If you're a poetry lover, I'd like to invite you (and your readers) to participate in the poetry survey that I'm doing. I'm looking for your ten favorite classic poems. Read more about it here.

Emily (Laundry and Lullabies) said...

I loved this book (as you know, of course!) I found the idea of faithfulness instead of futility incredibly helpful, because feeling like nothing I do matters - I'll just have to do it again tomorrow - is a besetting sin of mine. Her perspective is one that I need to remember and work towards!