The following text is a message I shared with my church congregation on October 27, 2019. As it pays homage to the name and purpose of this blog, I find it fitting to share it here. Also, many of us are home a whole heap more these days, and it has resonated more than ever with me–I hope it may also touch you in some way.
The Spirit In Our Homes
By, Alyson Pugsley
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, published in 2014, has topped best-seller lists and its author has gained a place as one of Time’s 100 most influential people. If you’ve read her book on how to simplify and organize your home, or watched the more recent Netflix show, “Tidying up with Marie Kondo,” you most likely ended up with aesthetically pleasing drawers and black garbage bags full of items that no longer “spark joy” for you. Like millions of people around the world, including me, your home felt free (at least for a time) from the burden of unnecessary material items, unless you went too far and ended up with nothing to wear, nothing to read, and without the documents to complete your tax return!
William Morris, the british textile designer and leader of the Victorian arts and crafts movement, would have been kindred spirits with Kondo. He said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” I’ve had the privilege to tour his house, Kelmscott Manor, brimming with artistry and craftsmanship, and although I’ll never live in such a stunning place, I recall his words when considering what to bring through my door.
Advice on what to have in our homes extends even back to biblical times: “Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is established: And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches” (Proverbs 24:3-4).
Since I left for college, I have lived in 13 different spaces. I’m guessing that many of you have moved at least once. Recall, if you will, the scene before you as you entered your new home. It was most likely empty, if you arrived before the boxes and furniture. The walls and floors were blank canvases and you were faced with the fresh opportunity of how to fill the void.
The principle of filling our homes with only useful, beautiful and joyful objects is important, but we can easily extend the same practice as we consider the ethereal space within our walls. Doesn’t Marie Kondo’s advice, “Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest,” aptly apply to spiritual matters? So what do we bring into our homes, both tangible and intangible, that will grow the fruits of the spirit, which are “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness,[and] temperance…?” (Galatians 5:22-23). What are the precious and pleasant riches that will fill our rooms? Of course, we put scripture study, prayer, family home evening and other religious observances on our figurative bookshelves. But there is time and space for other wonderful things that bring the spirit into our homes!
There is a precept I have strived to live ever since I heard it over two decades ago when I was a student of the humanities. The German writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.” Goethe’s counsel extends beyond just the fine arts as we consider all that we hear, read, see, and speak (or whatever senses are available to you). I am not here to tell you exactly what to listen to, what to watch and look at, what to read, and what to say. We are all different; we have various interests, talents and sensitivities, but I believe that checking ourselves in these areas will greatly influence the spiritual climate of our homes.
I heard (on a podcast) recently a statistic that on average we tap, swipe, and click our devices 2,617 times a day. In the late 18th century, Goethe could have never imagined so many pictures, poems, or songs available at one’s fingertips. Sometimes I feel like there is emotional clutter taking up valuable real estate in the spiritual space of my home and when I take time to clean out my virtual world I feel just as satisfied as I do with simplified closets and drawers.
We have the power to choose what we see, hear, read, and speak. I am inspired by a conversation I heard between brother and sister, Maria and Timothy Shriver. Timothy Shriver is the CEO of special olympics and says that in his job, as he interacts with athletes and volunteers, he has a “front row seat to the best of humanity.” We have a special olympics athlete in our family and I know exactly what he means. Maria and Timothy encourage their listeners to curate the influences that come through their screens and feeds to provide the same view–the best of humanity. I love that! There is so much good and beauty in the world—let’s make space and time for it and then gather it, whether it’s news, podcasts, tunes, photography, literature, or film, in all their varied genres.
In his Discourses Brigham Young preached, “All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this Church and Kingdom” (p.3). “[I]t is the business of… this Church (Jesus, their Elder Brother, being at their head) to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation, to the Gospel we preach, … to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever it may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and bring it to Zion” (p.248). And I would add, bring these to your homes.
If we are unsure whether what we read, see, hear, and speak brings the spirit, Moroni counsels us in the Book of Mormon to choose “every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ” (Moroni 7:16). Last year I finished a novel with an audible sigh. My daughter, sitting nearby, asked if the book had a happy ending or a sad one. I told her that the best books usually have both. She understood what I meant and referenced a historical novel she had read. I love most the stories and pictures that deepen my understanding and compassion. When I have come to the conclusion of the Book of Mormon, my heart breaks for Moroni, mourning and all alone, and yet he is not despondent. The scriptures are filled with all sorts of darkness and tragedy, but the hope of Christ is triumphant.
We can gather the good creations of others and we can also make them ourselves. I am no artist but creating in some wholesome way will invite the spirit into a home. This could include writing, drawing, painting, playing an instrument, singing, dancing, woodworking, baking, or simply putting together pieces of a puzzle. And this is true whether done individually or collectively. It is our divine nature to create.
I’d like to share a brief sketch of how these concepts have played out in my own life. On occasion in my childhood, my dad would invite my siblings and me to sit at the kitchen table with him for some art instruction. My dad was an architect in the days when all drafting was done by hand, and he developed a large callus on his middle finger as a result of decades at his trade. He also insisted that we hold our pencils correctly, grasping it gently between forefinger and thumb, resting it against the middle finger. In these drawing lessons, he taught some perspective and line principles, but I think this is where I first felt the peace and enlightenment of art and creation. A couple of years ago, my dad was visiting and spent time at my table drawing and painting with my children. He sketched and water-colored Westminster Abbey. I treasure that picture. More recently, my three daughters gathered with paints and canvases and spent an evening painting together. This isn’t a frequent event but they were unified and friendly as they created side by side.
My parents were incredibly diligent with family prayer, 7:00am scripture study (even during summer breaks), and family home evenings. While I admire and appreciate their efforts with these practices, other aspects of my homelife drew the spirit powerfully into those walls. My childhood home was filled with art on the walls, books, literature, and encyclopedias (I still remember the 1985 Encyclopedia set arriving in boxes and how beautiful the gilded pages looked–I loved looking through the pages and learning of other cultures and places). The books weren’t forced upon me but accessible. During difficult times in my youth, I came to love the word of God, and was also enveloped at home in knowledge and beauty. I’ll cite just one example.
My parents took me to see the musical Les Miserables when I was 14 and that amazing display encouraged me to read the abridged version of Victor Hugo’s novel the same year. 10 years later, I felt brave enough to read the book in its entirety; it was an unforgettable journey that I took while waiting for the birth of my first baby. Throughout my life, literature and other art has often been the medium through which the atonement of Jesus Christ has healed and sustained me through my challenges.
In more recent years, some of the best conversations I’ve had with my daughters have happened as we’ve read together. Elder Uchtdorf based his latest conference talk on the Hobbit and also quoted Dumbledore so I feel comfortable sharing that reading the Harry Potter books aloud at home has sparked meaningful conversations about heros, friendships, identity, love, forgiveness, and redemption. As long as I’m on the topic of fantasy, three months ago I wrote an entry in my journal about my daughter Jane, for whom reading is a great challenge,
Jane came to me mid-morning and asked me to read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to her. It has been a great while since she has asked me to read anything to her, and nothing ever of that quality. She sat for 15 minutes of a novel and we discussed as we went! Granted, she knows the characters and plot from the film, but it gave me such hope that I might now share this book with all 3 of my girls. (July 17, 2019)
Now Jane hasn’t made it much past chapter two but perhaps one day we might discuss the symbols in that book that typify Christ.
The 13th Article of Faith was my favorite as a child, for no other reason than I was proud to be able to recite it, as it is the longest. Now I am fond of it for another reason. Every sentence of the Articles of Faith begins with “we believe,” except the last, which reads, “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” After declaring our beliefs, Joseph Smith closes with a call to action. “If” we believe all of those things “then” we go about seeking good!
I often fall short on these lofty standards I’ve outlined for inviting and keeping the spirit in our homes. But I have also learned from experience that if we fill our shelves with uplifting books, our feeds with encouraging stories; if we stock our screens with inspiring pictures and lace our walls with kind words, the Holy Ghost and the love of God will thrive in our homes.