Monday, January 30, 2012

My Quandry: Detachment and Desires

Many a chilly afternoon I can be found staring out the window, dreaming about our future dream house. The layout. The details. The paint colors. The furniture. The style. The projects. The parties. The guests. The cozy family evenings.

The truth is, I like nice things. I like pretty things. I like good quality things. And I'm willing to spend extra money for items with any (and preferably all) of those attributes.

Manuel Barthold (1874-1947) Saying Her Prayers
I don't want luxury, mind you. My dream house doesn't include a sauna, marble columns, or niches for Grecian statues. Opulence and luxury are not the goal, but items of good quality and beauty are important to me.

And yet I struggle to reconcile this with detachment preached by the saints. I've been reading a lot of the Carmelite saints, lately, and without exception the message is: detachment from worldly goods and goals is necessary for advancement in the spiritual life.

I am detached, I think, insofar as my world wouldn't come crashing down with the china cabinet; they're just things. But I'm attached insofar as I'd probably immediately set about replacing them because I like entertaining on pretty dishes. I like people (including myself and my husband) to experience beauty and family comfort when they visit my home.

I know it's not necessarily sinful, but is it intrinsically contrary to the spiritual life to work towards buying nice and pretty things, to owning a home that's not just a roof over our heads but a little haven of beauty as well? Should I be happy to buy a used mobile home and 70's Goodwill furniture and spend my energies and money on loftier goals?

How do I know when I own possessions and when they own me? How do I know if I put my hope in Christ or in a new comforter that I'm hoping to buy? How do I reconcile detachment with worldly desires?

If you know the answer, let me know.


Jenna St. Hilaire said...

OK, mine wouldn't include a sauna either, and anything with marble pillars is probably hard to heat, but NICHES FOR GRECIAN STATUES. COME ON.

Kidding. Sort of. :P

Yeah, I struggle with this one, too. Less in the sense of thinking my pretty little home will keep me from God--if anything, its beauty does the opposite--and more in the fear of spending money on pretty stuff when some children don't have any food.

I don't want to give a pat answer, because I don't think it's totally simple... but if beauty isn't important, if it isn't worth putting a little money and time into, it seems a little odd for the Church to bother with stained glass. Didn't Dorothy Day speak of beautiful churches as the only place the poor can go for free and experience beauty that lifts the heart and mind to heaven? Why shouldn't our homes be the same for all whom God sends to our door?

You speak of money and energies. I think the beauty of a home depends less on money than on creativity, loosely anyway; many a rich room is either sterile or cluttered. Some investment is necessary, of course. But then, that's what all that creative energy is, too--an investment. Just as I work with a better will when I wear makeup, I set myself up for better productivity and better moods by having a neat and warmly, affectionately decorated home. I have more energies to give out daily because of the energy I've put into this little old house. And it makes a difference for my husband, too.

While I wholeheartedly agree that we shouldn't set our heart on possessions... in principle I agree, that is, if not always in practice... I do think beauty is a worthwhile goal especially for the maker of a home. At least, as long as it is surrendered to God with the rest of our lives. If it's bad for the soul, then God forgive me for my great love of bookshelves and houseplants and lamps and sheer curtains.

Sorry about the longwinded response. I guess I'm passionate about this. :)

Rachel said...

The book "Happy Are You Poor" by Fr. Thomas Dubay offers some interesting insight on this, but I don't recommend reading it unless you want to be challenged! I think at some point in the  it all boils down to how radical we want (or are called) to be. We are not all called to live the austerity of Jesus (whom Scripture says had no where to lay his head) or Francis of Assisi. Consider for example, that St. Thomas More was the chancellor of England, and enjoyed a marvelous estate, as did St. Louis, King of France. St. Louis used his wealth for the benefit of the poor - by regularly inviting them into the castle to be served meals in his grand dining hall! Fr. Robert Barron (in Episode 2 of his Catholicism series) says it's not what we have, but how we have it. I think that having a nice home for the purpose of hospitality and welcoming others into it (whether guests or children) can be entirely in line with a virtuous life. I think you are right to point out that detachment is key. To detachment - I'd add another "D" - Discernment. What does your DH feel on the subject? Do you both see such a dream house - as a means to live out a common mission of hospitality - that is, welcoming others such an abode?  Good luck! =)

Guest said...

I think we kind of have to worry about these things. It's part of our vocation as homemakers. Like it said in this Sunday's reading - a married woman is concerned about the things of the Lord but also about worldly things, how to please her husband. This isn't sinful attachment; it's just how our life is now.

I'm not saying we shouldn't look heavenward. Truth be told, I haven't found a really good balance myself just yet. But sometimes when I'm tempted to trivialize home concerns, I think of Mrs. Jellyby in "Bleak House." I do not want to be her! :)

Sylvia Smith said...

Yes, the answer is: stop being feminine.  Femininity is contrary to the spiritual life!

Lisa Gale said...

As I was reading your post, I was thinking about two different things - First, Martha was the ever gracious hostess to Jesus making sure he and the other guests were comfortable and happy.  It is in service to your husband and guests that you want to make them comfortable and give them an enjoyable experience.  Second, if you were neglecting your duties and spending your family's money without concern for budget or tithe, then you would be in trouble.  We live in the world and can enjoy all the wonderful things around us.  You will get plenty of opportunities to deny your desires as you try to furnish your dream house and have to opt for the less fancy option when you see the price tag.  But I think dreams make the world go around. I think that is why Pinterest is so popular!!!

Erin Flannigan said...

I think about this all the time! I totally agree that beautiful, high quailty things are worth the money.  And I'm ok with having just a few good quality items (or acquiring them slowly over time) rather than purchasing 50 cheap, plastic items all at once.  Maybe it teaches us that we don't need as many "things" as we think we do.  I think our culture needs more beauty (in our homes, possessions, clothing, behavior, etc.). But the struggle is still there...we can't take any material possessions with us into eternal life...but shouldn't we still enjoy them while we are here???

Laurainkberry said...

I like what Alice von Hildebrand said in her "Letters to a Young Bride,"  about how a married woman who keeps house is charged with the task of surrounding her family with beautiful things so that their house will be a true home where each member of the family has the freedom to truly be himself, secure in the knowledge that here he will be accepted and loved for himself.
I think you're fulfilling your vocation when you save for beautiful things! For myself, I try to keep balanced by making sure that what I spend on non-essentials like decorations or other comforts is less than what I give to those in need, either in money or my time and efforts. It can be hard to keep a balance, though.

Masha said...

I need beauty.  When my husband and I bought our land, we couldn't afford to build (we still can't :) ). A lot of people we knew were happy to settle in trailers when they moved on to acres, but I refused. Trailers depress me. Instead, we put up a yurt, because the shape, the light, the open spaces raise up our souls. Beauty is healing, beauty is sacred, beauty helps form the soul in imitation of Christ. 

I think you'll know if your possessions own you. When you start keeping the lovely cups on a high shelf when guests come, or you refuse to use the pretty china for just the two of you.  When you pick and chose which guests get the good stuff, and which get the "good enough" - these are times you might want to reflect a bit.  But I remember your tea party photos - using the beauty of your home to create a retreat for your guests is a blessing -  you imitate our Lady of Ephesus, whose home welcomed the tired apostles, I'm sure she chose lovely things to offer her 'sons' so that when they left, their thoughts of her were full of the beauty of God's goodness.

I don't think there are loftier goals than creating a domestic church that imitates the cathedrals or the fantastic old monastaries - one that people come to because they know they'll leave refreshed by the beauty around them.  Keep at it!


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