Creative Ideas for Enriching Everyday Life

41pKrEoDrZL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Hidden Art of Homemaking
by Edith Shaeffer

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.

Schaeffer-Edith

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.

 

 

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‘Out of the ordinary every day’

Eric Ravilious
An Exhibition at The Dulwich Picture Gallery

Eric  Ravilious, (‘tweed clad, fair-haired and hesitant in speech’) was a lesser known British artist and designer whose short life (1903 to 1942) ended aged 39 on active service during the height of the Second World War.     Ravilious joined the Royal Navy as one of the first Official War Artists during which time his watercolour technique blossomed.  I came across his work for the first time during a recent visit to The Dulwich Picture Gallery in London where an exhibition of his watercolours was in full swing. A previous exhibition in 2003 at the Imperial War Museum was a turning point in appreciation of the artist.

The Waterwheel

The Waterwheel

His life and works are covered in a beautifully produced catalogue of the current exhibition.  (It runs until the end of August 2015).  Written by James Russell who has already published works on Ravilious, we learn about his background, his brief career and his relationships with fellow war artists such as  Paul Nash with whose style Ravilious has much in common.

Dangerous Work at Low Tide

Dangerous Work at Low Tide

Previously known for his book illustrations, wood engravings,  murals and his designs for Wedgwood ceramics he is now attracting attention with his depictions of the more tangential activities of war and his nostalgic portrayals of an England that the war changed for ever.

The Causeway, Wiltshire Downs

The Causeway, Wiltshire Downs

In an article in The Observer on 14 May 1939, journalist Jan Gordon commented that each work ‘appear[ed] as something magic, almost mystic, distilled out of the ordinary every day.’  His ability to perceive the beauty and significance of individual moments in time is hinted at in a remark made by art critic and writer John Rothenstein.  ‘From time to time he would smile as though at something distant.’

In Eric Ravilious we find an example of how the artist perceives beauty in the seemingly mundane.  This is a gift but it is also a discipline.  The discipline of ‘standing and staring’  instead of rushing about so ‘full of care’ that we miss the visual delights laid before us.

Train Landscape

Train Landscape

In the 1940 watercolour Train Landscape there is one such example how Ravilious notices his surroundings with an almost ‘mindful’ immediacy, an achievement in itself given that the view from the window could have been missed in a moment.  The fabric of the seats is vivid enough to feel as is the leather window strap and the wooden panelling.  Outside the window the chalk figure of the white horse is almost lost from view before the rest of the wintry English landscape fills the carriage windows.  How often do I barely notice my surroundings preoccupied with the invasive lens of distracted thoughts?  A painting like this one makes me envious of the beauty that Ravilious could find in such an un-astonishing scene.  He seems to be inviting us to wake up and notice the beauty of the ordinary that surrounds us.

This beauty that Ravilious perceived and shares with us points to a greater and more perfect reality, one unmarred by the horrors of war or damaged by change.  The beauty of heaven.  Might it be that artists are experiencing a longing for this perfection whether consciously or unconsciously?

C.S. Lewis speaks powerfully of the desires that such beauty stirs in us in his essay The Weight of Glory:

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located
will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.
These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.
For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
I think this is why I always feel so full of ache after leaving such exhibitions.  The longing for heaven has been stirred again, if I could only recognise it.   What I need to do is to remember not to fall into the trap of worshipping what I’ve just experienced but to remember that it is not the thing itself; only ‘news from a country’ I have yet to inhabit.