Available from Amazon.co.uk
A vicar was heard to comment to his wife who was industriously de-cluttering their home after a chaotic move, that she should ‘make do and mend’ rather than throwing things out. She had recently read Marie Kondo’s successful publication ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying’ and was trying to follow William Morris’ advice to ‘have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’ Edith Shaeffer, were she still alive (she died in 2013), would have them combine their instincts in the interests of marital harmony and creative expression. The Hidden Art of Homemaking would have shown them how to do this.
Edith Shaeffer was the wife of the better known Francis Shaeffer, the American evangelical Christian theologian, philosopher and pastor most famous for his writing and his foundation of the L’Abri community in Switzerland in 1955, a community offering the opportunity for enquiring individuals to seek philosophical and religious answers to life’s questions.
His wife, the daughter of missionaries in China, was evangelical as well as stylish. Petite, beautifully dressed and redolent with Chanel No 5, she combined wholehearted support of her husband’s ministry and commitment to the gospel with a passion for sharing her love of music, art and literature, not least with her children.
In this short, readable and quirkily illustrated book, Shaeffer defines ‘Homemaking’ as an art form encouraging women called to this vocation to pursue their daily tasks with creativity and individuality.
Perhaps too dated in style and content for some modern readers, the book nevertheless carries a timeless message. It is not a waste of man’s time to be creative.
‘It is not a waste to pursue artistic or scientific pursuits in creativity, because this is what man was made to be able to do. He was made in the image of a Creator, and given the capacity to create – on a finite level of course, needing to use the materials already created- but he is still the creature of a Creator.’
Since we have been made in God’s image, Shaeffer explains, we not only can be, but are made to be creative. In fact, she suggests that Christians have a duty to be creative because of their Paternity. It is far from being an irrelevance to a devout life.
‘What I call “Hidden Art” should be more important to one who knows and admits that he is made in God’s image, than to those who do not.’
If ‘Hidden Art’ is the art which is found in the minor areas of life, then everyday opportunities come alive with possibility. Do we recognise the importance of living artistically as we make beds, prepare meals, paint walls, plant violas, play music to our children, read to our children, clothe our children? Sensitivity to beauty should increase as we walk with the Lord, not dry up.
All these pursuits can be enjoyed as worship and without regard to success.
‘There is a God who is there, and who is personal, and who accepts music as praise to Himself, as worship, when given to Him in this sincere way – without being strained through the “strainer” of human acceptance.’
The writer devotes chapters to Music, Painting, Interior Decoration, Gardening, Flower Arranging, Food, Writing, Drama and Clothing to name a few and ends with an interesting take on ‘Environment’. This is not, as I was expecting, a chapter on recycling cereal boxes but on the challenging concept that we create an environment around ourselves by the way we live.
‘We are an environment, each one of us. We are an environment for the other people with whom we live, the people with whom we work, the people with whom we communicate. And in this sense we do not choose an art form and create something in that form; we are an art form.’
Emily Freeman is saying something similar in ‘A Million Little Ways’ but the particular strength of Shaeffer’s book is that she reminds the bible-believing conservative Christian of the value of beauty without for a second denying the ‘first importance’ of sharing the message of the cleansing blood of Christ in whom true Beauty is found.