Monday, November 14, 2016

Book Notes: "The Lifegiving Home," by Sally & Sarah Clarkson

"The Lifegiving Home" is a book about homemaking, written by mother-daughter writing pair Sally and Sarah Clarkson. After a fairly short introductory section, the rest of the book is divided up into twelve chapters, one for each month of the year, wherein the Clarksons discuss things like "Days to Commemorate: Marking Growth with Celebration" and "Creating a Framework for Home: Rhythms, Routines, and Rituals."

When I first picked it up, I assumed that this book was primarily written for wives and mothers, but it turns out that one of the authors is a single woman, and it became clear as I read on that "The Lifegiving Home" is aimed at all Christian women, which was a really nice surprise.

(The other surprise was that I ended up liking the chapters written by Sarah--the daughter of the team--better than those written by Sally. I was surprised by this because Sally is the writer I'd heard of--and read--before. But having read her, I'm pretty sure she's the sort of mom who's delighted by the fact that her daughter is starting to lap her.)

The main thrust of this book is that our homes are a tool and a staging area for loving the Lord by loving other people. It's absolutely a theme I resonate with. Here's a quotation that sums up the best of the book, for me:
When you understand the reality of incarnation, the way that the physical trappings of our lives and our use of time and space are places where God either comes in His creative presence or remains at bay, you understand that nothing is neutral. Nothing. You can't just waste an hour on the Internet. You can't just miss one sunrise in its beauty. No room is just space. No hour is meaningless. No meal is mere sustenance. Every rhythm and atom of existence are spaces in which the Kingdom can come, in which the story of God's love can be told anew, in which the stuff of life can be marvelously turned into love.

What I liked best about the book was also, weirdly, what I also liked the least: the authors did a beautiful job of describing what a "lifegiving home" might look like. The most inspiring part of the book was simply being reminded that our everyday work in our homes is important, and then being shown, in concrete examples from the authors' own lives, what that might look like. But those same reminders and examples eventually, for me, grew a bit weary-making. For example, the idea of playing "lilting Celtic music" to promote a beautiful atmosphere was lovely the first time I heard it ... but by the end of a long book, I never wanted to hear about "lilting Celtic music" ever again.

To be fair, I think that kind of repetition is hard to avoid in a book like this, and I appreciate the authors' willing vulnerability in using their own lives as examples of the principles they were talking about. Most of their examples were beautiful, encouraging, and refreshing. But I think the book probably could have been a bit shorter, had a few fewer lists of ideas, a little less repetition, and not really suffered for the loss.  (Note: if you read a chapter each month, instead of reading the whole book at once, the repetition probably wouldn't be much of an issue.)

But, I'd be remiss not to also talk about why the concrete reminders were the best part of the book, too. The pictures Sarah and Sally painted of ordinary, good family life were inspiring, and they were inspiring because they were reminders both that all of this quotidian labor matters, and also that all of this quotidian labor really can be done well. It's not an impossible task. It's a good thing, it matters, and it can be done well.

That's a reminder I can stand to hear most days.

And, finally, because I am a Christian-church-year nerd, I have to say how much I enjoyed Sarah's December chapter, where she geeked out about the glories of Advent and all twelve days of Christmas.  I loved it.  The whole thing was awesome, and if I tried to copy out all of my favorite quotations from that chapter, this review would probably be twice as long as it already is. So, let it suffice for me to type out my favorite sentence, which comes in the context of Sarah explaining that the feasting part of the Christian cycle of feasts-and-fasts isn't about hedonistic over-indulgence, but, rather:

The point is to put flesh and expression to joy.

Yes. Exactly this.

In fact, I think you could safely say that the point of this entire book is that homemaking can be one way to put flesh and expression to love.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

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Carol said...

I've read a few books by Sally Clarkson, but not her daughter, although I've read some her blog articles. I always appreciate what she says but her writing style is always too waffly for me. I feel the same way about Edith Schaeffer's wrting - great content but too much meandering.

hopeinbrazil said...

Loved this review. I, too, resonate with many of these themes.

Jessica Snell said...

Carol, I think you're right about Schaeffer's writing--at least, that's part of why I've never been able to get into her stuff myself. Clarkson's not that bad, though, to my taste. :)

And thanks, hopeinbrazil!