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I know some people might wonder why we do this; why we chant our way through an outdated prayer service, sprinkling holy water all over our new home.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