Sunday, March 27, 2011

2011 Reading Challenge~~Book #13

I first read~no, devoured~Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life by Margaret Kim Peterson two years ago and have been eager for a re-read ever since. Each of the one hundred sixty-five pages is a gem! Peterson delves into the theology of housekeeping and shows us why it matters, even in its repetition and ordinariness. In fact, it is because of those things that it matters in the first place. We are embodied creatures. On the sixth day of creation God made Adam in all his physicality and declared him "very good," and it is precisely because of our creatureliness that things like beds and lunches and clean underwear matter. We live in this world through the medium of our bodies, and our bodies demand certain things. Because we are not only bodies, these things nurture our souls as well, our whole being. Keeping House is a book about the why's of housekeeping. Our modern age has done us a great disservice by teaching us that housekeeping is mindless drudgery resulting in little to show for our efforts. This couldn't be more wrong. We are not gnostics.

What is more basic to our physical well-being than food, clothes, and shelter? The Bible is replete with passages in which God clothes us in His righteousness, feeds us with His own flesh and blood and is preparing the ultimate feast for us, and shelters us both here and now and in His kingdom to come. Peterson brings together numerous biblical passages that use imagery related to the household (the parables of Jesus, for instance) and shows how integral the idea of home is to Christian theology. Jesus has gone to prepare a home for us, and our homes here are a dim reflection of the future glorious home that awaits each Christian.

This is a book of why's, not how's. The author does not tell us how to do laundry or plan meals, but she does tell us why we should. For practical help, I like Cheryl Mendelson's Home Comforts. (Together, these two books make excellent wedding or shower gifts.) Nor is she another Martha Stewart: there's nary a decorating tip in the entire volume, and in fact, she specifically and intentionally removes the burden of perfection from her readers. Peterson is interested in real people with real lives and real homes that don't look like glossy magazines. That's one of the best aspects of this book.

Not only does Peterson make a sound case for the importance of housekeeping, she writes well. Her prose is lovely and draws the reader along through its sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. She gives the impression that the way she conveys her ideas is as important as the ideas themselves.

This is a book I'd take to the proverbial desert island because even there, there would be a home to make. This second reading has cemented its place as one of my very favorite books and one that I heartily recommend. It satisfies my inner housekeeper.

I want to share a few quotes, but it's hard to know where to begin. A few nuggets fairly randomly chosen:

"There has surely always been a gap between the way people keep their houses and the way they would like ideally to keep them. But many of us, I suspect, are demoralized by the task of keeping house in part because we know that our houses, no matter how well kept, will never look like the palaces in the dream house publications. And so we give up, preferring unattainable ideals to less than perfect realities.

An alternative might be humility and gratitude that in a world in which not all are decently housed, we have been given the gift of a home, plus a willingness to aspire to a more modest ideal and to work to achieve it. Instead of nurturing dissatisfaction with the shortcomings of our present home, whatever we may perceive them to be, perhaps we can turn our energies toward receiving as gifts the homes we have and to creating in them enough order and tidenss to promote convenience and peace and hospitality." (p. 44-45)

"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 in not instantaneous. It takes time, and handwork can be a way to weave temporality and process back into our lives. As one woman says, "Any knitter knows how it feels to pick up those needles at the beginning or at the end of the day and to create something while reflecting on our daily lives--stitch by stitch, thought by thought, moment by quiet moment." (p. 80)

"Embracing--rather than resisting--the daily necessity of feeding a household can be a way of embracing the privilege of participating with God in this aspect of providential care. Feeding a household is not an acheivement that, once accomplished, can be checked off and set aside to make room for other pursuits. Feeding a household is an act of faithfulness, one that requires daily energy and attention and whose pleasures and rewards are experienced in the course of that faithfulness rather than only at the end." (p. 127-128)

Keeping House is akin to Edith Schaeffer's Hidden Art of Homemaking~~real homemaking for real people.


  1. Hi Martha,
    I was browsing through the book reviews on Semicolon and saw Keeping House. I just recently put it on my wish list so I clicked on the review...and there you are! I've peaked at your blog from time to time but I didn't know you did book reviews on Semicolon. Good to see a friend. And thanks for the review. I think I will go ahead and purchase it. I'm thinking about reading it with my 3 girls. Housekeeping is something severely lacking in their education and I was thinking this book might give them a vision for it.

  2. This is a book all about vision, Sheri. I wish you and your daughters success as you read it together!

  3. I thought this book looked good and like something I'd like when I saw it as your current read. Now I know! : )

  4. I have this book! Wonder where I got it... :)

  5. Thanks for the review! I am off to see if the library has it.


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