At first glance, everyday tasks like simmering a pot of soup or flipping on a lamp may not appear to hold any meaning beyond the mundane.
But modern Catholic women are discussing the value of such simple, everyday things as they cultivate the notion of what home truly is.
“God built the world like he was building a house,” explained Catholic author Emily Stimpson Chapman to the Register. “We who are made in the image of God feel that need to make a home for ourselves and for our children … where the most important work and growth of the human person takes place.”
Chapman explained that humans have an innate desire for beauty, which partially explains the modern preoccupation with home design. Having recently renovated an historic home with her husband, Chris, she admitted her own fascination with home décor on social media.
However, Chapman emphasized that truly creating a home requires much more than paint, furniture and light fixtures.
“The heart of the home has to be a spirit of welcome and love, mercy and respect,” she said. “If you have those things, the rest of the stuff doesn’t matter.”
The authors of Theology of Home agree.
Carrie Gress, Noelle Mering and Megan Schrieber highlight such themes in their book Theology of Home: Finding the Eternal in the Everyday.
“Home, by its nature, is meant to be a foreshadowing of heaven,” they wrote. “It is to be both satisfying in this earthly life while also offering a glimpse of things to come.”
So it is that ordinary things like hot soup and a bedside lamp can contribute to the creation of a “sanctuary,” a place where its inhabitants feel a sense of belonging and peace.
Theology of Home offers guidance for those desiring to create such a haven with spiritual reflections on topics such as nourishment, light, safety, order, comfort and hospitality.
The authors take each element and reveal a deeper, sacred meaning. The glow of lamps and candles points to Jesus as Light of the World. Shared meals echo the gift of the Eucharist. A well-ordered dwelling recalls the intentionality with which God created the world.
“Making our homes a kind of sanctuary means more than simply having nourishing comfort food on the table or high-thread-count sheets on the bed,” they wrote in Theology of Home. “There must be nourishment for the soul.”
Such themes are expanded in the second Theology of Home book, Theology of Home II: The Spiritual Art of Homemaking.
In her new book Revived and Renovated: Real Life Conversations on the Intersection of Home, Faith and Everything in Between, designer Paige Rien (along with co-author Victoria Duerstock) confirms this sentiment.
“The work of beautifying the home is inextricably linked to the work we do with God on our souls,” Rien explained to the Register. “You want to gut your kitchen, but let’s talk about what else needs renovation in your house.
“What relationships need work?” she asked. “We can’t put those on hold to redo the kitchen.”
Looking back upon her life, Rien noticed a parallel between her spiritual journey and her career as a home decorator. After years in addiction recovery, Rien found strength in the Catholic faith and joined the Church in 2018.
“I feel totally renovated by the Lord,” she said. “I am that desk that God stripped down to the bare essentials to build me back up.”
Rien added that every dimension of the home changes when Christ is at the center.
“I don’t just mean his picture is at the center of my living room,” she said. “I mean my vocation as a mother is going to trump trying to impress my neighbor.”
As such, Rien said she considers her individual and family needs first when decorating her home.
“I need things in my house to remind me to make a better choice … to remind me that I’m not alone, and God is with me,” she said. “If I made my house just plain-old beautiful, using all the trends, it’s not going to do that.”
For example, Rien said she prominently displays a Marian statue in her home because it provides the daily encouragement she needs.
“Sometimes I don’t feel like living, loving or serving,” she said. “When I’m like, ‘I’ve had it as a wife and mother,’ the sun is shining on the Blessed Virgin. There’s a fortitude I get from her.”
Rien added that a home should reflect everyone who lives there.
“The culture says the home is your greatest asset, your showpiece, your place to impress guests, but it’s actually a place of connection,” she said.
The photographs sprinkled throughout the Theology of Home tomes help this sense of connection come to life.
While the spaces featured in the book are modern and attractive, the photography highlights “real” life: a group of four siblings putting on mud boots, a young girl’s windblown hair and a grandfather’s walker resting next to the dinner table.
“Our books are full of pregnant women and lots of children running around,” said author Noelle Mering in an interview with the Register. “Husbands are involved, too — holding babies and then chopping wood.”
“There is far more dynamism in Catholic family life than what you would imagine if you were just sitting from afar, looking at it from the lens of the media portrayal,” she said. “I think there’s something compelling about seeing this life that we know to be hard but also full of deep, abundant joy.”
Mering lamented that the art of homemaking has gathered a negative connotation in secular culture, but she also finds hope in the resurgence of hobbies like vegetable gardening, knitting and making homemade chicken broth.
“People are trying to return to something more human, even though the concept of domesticity has been so denigrated,” she said. “The human soul wants the goodness that [these activities] represent.”
Mering pointed out that the culture’s longing for simplicity provides the perfect opportunity for the home to evangelize.
“We might not be able to get all our friends and acquaintances to step through the doors of a Catholic church, but we can get them into our kitchen,” the authors wrote in Theology of Home.
Mering emphasized that family life lived well is compelling and attractive.
“That doesn’t mean every family has to be dressed to the nines and stunningly gorgeous,” she said. “It’s deeper than that. It’s the family that maybe not everything is perfect, but they have a real sense of joy about them and care for each other.”
To support this vision of family, Mering and co-author Gress joined with the Ethics and Public Policy Center to create the Theology of Home Project. Mering said the project’s primary strategy is to develop new media to “put forth a positive embodied vision of the domestic church.”
She said their website, TheologyofHome.com, is intended to feel like a women’s magazine, filled with inspiring articles, crafts, recipes and a mercantile of handcrafted items for gift-giving or personal use.
Mering remembered her desire years ago as a newly married woman to live according to the Church’s teaching, but as a convert she had no idea where to begin.
“It helped so much once I finally found a community of other women that were living this life, and I was invited into their homes,” she said.
Mering hopes the Theology of Home Project will serve a similar purpose in modern culture.
“It’s a simple guide to help reorient all of us toward our true home,” wrote the authors of Theology of Home, “allowing us to think purposefully about how to make our homes on earth better equipped to get all those living in them to the Father’s house.”