Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Shadows on the Rock

By Rebekah Randolph
A Mad Tea Party

Last year, I read Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather. She has become one of my favorite authors, not least because of her attention to life's small things. In this book, I was struck by how the "small things" of homemaking, in particular, became the spine and spirit of a community.

The story follows a young girl in the French colony of Quebec circa 1700. The French settlers have been uprooted from their homeland (albeit willingly) and set down in a place entirely foreign to them. All their comforts derive from the traditions they have managed to carry across the Atlantic.

Quebec's homemakers therefore play a far more meaningful role than is apparent on the surface. They function as guardians of a more refined way of life. Through their everyday duties, they infuse reason, warmth, and stability into a world otherwise marked by ignorance, crudity, and violence.

This is especially true in the house of the Auclairs.
"The individuality, the character, of M. Auclair's house, though it appeared to be made up of wood and cloth and glass and a little silver, was really made of very fine moral qualities in two women: the mother's unswerving fidelity to certain traditions, and the daughter's loyalty to her mother's wish. 
"It was because of these things that had gone before, and the kind of life lived there, that the townspeople were glad of any excuse to stop at the apothecary's shop."
Reading this book gave structure to an idea that had long been floating round my mind: that homemaking involves far, far more than keeping the physical house. It is, at heart, creating a world. You the homemaker help to shape the kind of life lived there. Even in the way you call your children to dinner or the way you fold towels, you are determining the kind of life your family knows as good and right.

I love to think about this as I go around the house doing my chores, finishing my projects. As I iron a tablecloth, I am underlining the need for beauty in our world. As I write Psalms on the chalkboard, I am reminding us all that we need to hear and obey the Word. As I put away Ellie's toys at night, I am showing her that things have proper places, and we should try to keep them there. Through all this, in my small way, I participate in the task God has given to all humans, to "take dominion over Creation" and bring it into a useful pattern.
"These coppers, big and little, these brooms and clouts and brushes, were tools; and with them one made, not shoe or cabinet-work, but life itself. One made a climate within a climate; one made the days, -- the complexion, the special flavour, the special happiness of each day as it passed; one made life." 
What kind of day am I making? What complexion, what happiness, do I give to my child and my husband in this home? Having such a purpose radically transforms how I do my work, if not in the literal actions then in my attitude towards them. I see the dignity of homemaking as I never did before.

(Oh, a postscript: while men as husbands and fathers contribute hugely to the atmosphere of the home, I do think that it is the particular privilege of women, especially as wives and mothers, to influence that world. I certainly don't think that excludes women from working elsewhere, or from doing things apparently unrelated to homemaking. I just mean that . . . well, God has given women qualities that particularly lend themselves to the domestic, and to fostering love and connection among their children if they are so blessed. An unfashionable opinion, but I do hold it. No matter what the details look like, we really are gifted to be "busy at home" as Paul says, and we should see that as a remarkably worthy task, regardless of whether or not we do it full time while homeschooling ten kids, or do it alongside another job.)

Rebekah Randolph is a wife and mommy who also happens to be a world-class nerd. (She was the kind of kid who read the dictionary for fun.) In 2009 she graduated from Hillsdale College with a degree in English, then proceeded to teach online writing classes to homeschooled students around the globe. In her spare time Rebekah listens to NPR, forgets to do the dishes, and blogs at A Mad Tea Party. She lives with her husband and baby daughter in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania . . and no, she is not Amish.

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