a liturgy of celebration for a home

We spend all day cleaning. (And this is why we have people over, because otherwise we might never clean.) After dinner they come, our friends and colleagues, the ones who by their welcome have made the prairie into holy ground for us. Leaving their shoes at the door, they enter the stove-warmed kitchen, where cider and cocoa simmer, and exclaim over the view. "If my kitchen window looked out on that, I might never stop doing dishes," Renata says. 

the field affectionately known as Andrew Wyeth
We take coats, ladle hot drinks into heavy mugs for those fingers stiff with autumn chill, and pass around photocopied liturgies. Ethan, the only teenager present, (bless his heart), holds the holy water while Father Jim begins the prayers. 

Grasping a heavy Bible, Jack reads from Genesis 18 - the story of Abraham's hospitality to the Lord when he appeared to him in his home under the oaks of Mamre.

Jack stops at Genesis 18:8, as the liturgy indicates, as if to say, This is just the first part of the story.  This is the part where you open your heart to the LORD as he appears, suddenly, within your tents.  The part with the blessing, the surprise, the laughter, the disbelief; the warning, the pleading, the bargaining, the blessing -- all that is still to come. Tonight is for the welcoming and the feasting.

Our socked feet pad from room to room, we herd of worshippers and friends sidling next to each other in the office, the bedroom, the playroom, the kitchen, for prayers. Owen and Charlie run headlong from one side of the house to the other, and back again, cutting through the ranks of pray-ers, pretending to be rescue bots. Soon Rosie has changed into her Supergirl costume and joined them.

They're playing, we're praying, and I don't mind; after all, we are all in need of a rescuer. 

I know some people might wonder why we do this; why we chant our way through an outdated prayer service, sprinkling holy water all over our new home. 

This isn't superstition; we're not here because we think ghosts and evil spirits haunt our home and an incantation can ward them off. This isn't about good luck charms, a horseshoe hanging over the door or a double happiness symbol bringing us luck.

These prayers are a way of reminding ourselves of the truth. Remembering 

in the office, that God is the source of wisdom; 
in the bedroom, that we can sleep in peace because God alone makes us dwell in safety; 
in the children's rooms, that Jesus called the little ones to himself; 
in the kitchen, that God supplies all of our needs; 
in the guest room, that by showing hospitality, some have entertained angels unawares.

V: Open your homes to each other without complaining.
R: Use the gifts you have received from God for the good of others.

When the prayers finish, we cut the cheesecake and gather in knots around the table or the bookshelves. I put Denison Witmer on the record player and photocopy a poem for Karen. Eventually the children go to bed, and Jack and some guys head to the back of the property to talk around the bonfire. The moon is full tonight. I wash dishes and add whisky to my cider, taking a book of Mary Oliver poems to bed with me.

This isn't the house I would have chosen, nor the town, nor the job.  I would have gone with an older house, a more diverse city, a job where I got to feel like I was saving the world. 

But last week I told this house that I would be happy to grow old with it. Every day I thank the chickens for giving me their eggs, and I've mowed the grass enough that I'm learning where the ground is level and where it slants, where the milkweed pods grow and what the names of the trees are. "Plant sequoias," Wendell Berry says, and I agree.

Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

(Read the whole thing, if you haven't before. Or even if you have.) 

To know my place, to know myself, and in that to flourish in the obscurity of middle America. That would be enough.

So this is our house, our home; this is our field -- or we are its.  We celebrate a home through liturgy not because the prayers are some meaningless ritual we perform, a spell we cast, or a hoop we jump through to be righteous.  They are a reminder: 

The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. 

(An inheritance to be shared.)

and joy deep down inside

I don’t remember what he said, every night when he prayed for my sister and me in our double bed, except for one thing: Daddy’s prayers always ended with the same request.
“I pray that they would wake up in the morning,” he’d say, “with smiles on their faces, and songs in their hearts, and joy deep down inside.”
We weren’t a liturgical family.  We shied away from all that denominational mess in favor of The Bible.  My Sunday School teacher Miss Janie created her own curriculum, taking us through every story in the Book, even (and memorably) the one where Jael hammered a tent peg through Sisera and the one where Ehud’s sword was swallowed up by Eglon’s rolls of fat. On Sunday mornings we sang praise choruses and old Baptist hymns to the rhythm of acoustic guitar.  Once a month we passed around plates of oyster crackers and plastic cups of grape juice, and when it came time for baptism, Daddy did mine, out on the Frio River.
I loved God, and the church, and the stories I learned.  But as a teenager I began to yearn for tradition and liturgy...

music and liturgy

The first music I loved was on tape. It was Rich Mullins, "Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth," and I was probably about twelve years old. I graduated to CD soon enough, and my little collection consisted mostly of the free discs dad brought home from the radio station - Amy Grant's "Heart in Motion" (and my signed picture), Steven Curtis Chapman's great adventure.

Then in high school I regressed back to tapes, because tapes were what played in my '88 camry. The Hootie and the Blowfish tape I made of the cd I found when I was babysitting at the Whitlock's house. The recordings Caedmon's Call made before they were signed to a label.

Technology changed again. We had napster, and I was sampling new things, mp3 files burned to disc: Rosie Thomas, Dar Williams, Ani Difranco, Toad the Wet Sprocket.

But through all those changes, my listening was always limited to the collection that I owned, and as I result I really treasured albums, and I listened to almost all of them until I knew all the words by heart. The music was important to me.

Then in my twenties there was isohunt, and peer to peer sharing, and then pandora, and then rdio and spotify, and now I can listen to (or even "own") almost anything I want, at any time, and in practically any place.

The abundant availability of music made it harder to value, enjoy, and be moved by. It wasn't worth as much. So it didn't mean as much. It was digital, taking up no space in my life at all. It was overconsumption of something that was as light as air.

This is why, three or four years ago, Jack and I decided to quit peer to peer sharing. We deleted all (ok, not all, but most) of our illegally gained mp3 files. It's also why we bought a record player and started actually purchasing music again, this time on vinyl.

Now, when we get new music, it means something. It's an investment, and it takes up space in our house, so we also invest our time listening to it and letting it grow space in our hearts.

Recently I've felt that listening to music on a record player is something like the liturgy and eucharist at our Episcopal church. Listening to a record is a very physical process. I don't type a name in a search box; I kneel and flip through record sleeves. I stand, and lift the lid, and place the needle just right. The music requires attention, and after a few songs, I move to turn the record over. The records, and the player, take up physical space in my life, a rooted kind of space. They require a physical response. They require attention. They are repeated. Place, roots, physical response, attention, repetition: these not only signal that what I'm doing means something, but they create meaning as well.