The 31st chapter of the Book of Proverbs presents us today with the resume of a “spiritual Martha Stewart.”
Telford Work, in Feasting on the Word, characterizes it as “an impossible job description…she makes her own clothes; she gets up in the middle of the night to get everyone else going; she takes care of the family business and works into the night; and oh yes, she always has something ready to give those in need; she’s always strong and always has something profound to say.”
More than “a capable wife,” she is “a warrior woman, a strong woman, a woman of worth.” (FOTW, K.H.Carter, Jr.)
Her many gifts are listed alphabetically in this proverbial Hebrew poem. Reminiscent of an ancient issue of Good Housekeeping.
Good Housekeeping, of course, has been the proverbial magazine of choice for homemakers since 1885. A few years back plowing through boxes of books, I discovered two vintage issues: October 1953 & March 1957. Each nearly 300 pages and a bargain at 35 cents. The contents packed tight with domestic delights. Featured articles included: Hostess with the Mostest; Mother is a Lady; Man Talk; and How Did We Ever Get Along without Cellophane Tape?
Each issue’s thirteen categories included: Fashion; Needlework and Sewing; Medicine and Health; Bureau and Chemical Laboratory (Don’t ask! I don’t know!); Textile Laboratory; Decorating and Building; Beauty; Teenagers; Children’s Corner; Food; Appliance and Home Care; and Automobiles. Apparently the 1950’s housewife could change a tire just as expertly as she could change a diaper.
(Homemakers, of course, can be any gender. But this was the 1950’s. Hang in there with me, please!)
One issue had a ten page Hotdog Cookbook. The other had the Wisconsin Reducing Diet based on cheese.
But best of all were the ads!!
“’I wash 1400 pounds of laundry a year… but I’m proud of my pretty hands.’ Jergen’s Lotion only 10 cents plus tax.”
“Only the Sunbeam toasts with Radiant Control… that gives the same UNIFORM TOAST….Bread lowers itself automatically…Toast raises itself silently.”
“Palmolive Soap is 100% Mild to Guard that Schoolgirl Complexion Look!”
It is comforting to imagine June Cleaver — of Leave it to Beaver — in her shirt-waist dress, pearls and pumps — her house neat and tidy as a pin and nary a hair out of place. What I wouldn’t have given to have grown up on prime time TV.
Growing up on 24th Avenue, however, the health of our household was measured in mess: in baskets of laundry, beds to be made, and dishes to wash. On the up side, our house was House Beautiful. On the down side, my childhood home was a spread in Mad Magazine. Raising a family of six kids with a workaholic doctor for a husband would make just about anybody crazy — and so it did my mom. My mom who had already inherited her own mom’s “unquiet mind.”
I swore I would not grow up to be like my mom. Until, of course, I did.
Just about two decades ago, when I was rector of Holy Cross in Dunn Loring, I crashed and burned. I will not bore you with the details. Discharged from a ten day stay at Dominion Hospital, I thought I had just recovered from a once in a lifetime hellacious depression. But that was only the half of it.
Bizarrely once home, I stayed up nights hanging pictures on my walls, turning sheets into window treatments, and spice racks into towel racks. I created collages and decorated bulletin boards. I framed post cards and potted plants. I arranged and rearranged knickknacks and even dusted them! I alphabetized my bookshelves and cleaned out my closets. I fluffed pillows and vacuumed floors. I religiously made my bed. But I did not sleep in it, at least not very much.
Bipolar disorder in my family is the gift that keeps giving!
Turns out that “Good Housekeeping” is actually a great barometer of one’s mental health. In therapeutic language it’s called monitoring your “ADLs” – Activities of Daily Life. Laundry. Housework. Yard work. Grocery shopping. Cooking. Cleaning. Taking out the trash. Making meals. Doing dishes. Folding clothes. Checking the mail. Paying bills. Playing with the cats. Taking a walk. Phoning a friend.
The rhythm and routine of housekeeping has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with balance. Just as today’s reading from Proverbs is not just about ancient housewives. On a deeper level, it’s wise advice for cultivating health and harmony in our sacred spaces. Exterior and interior.
When a loved one does way too little housekeeping or way too much, pay attention. It might be a good time for a loving conversation to see what’s really going on. It may be time to talk with a counselor. Maybe even time to make an appointment with a psychiatrist. No, you are not crazy. It’s just the healthy thing to do.
As we move about our own homes this week, let’s keep and uphold one another’s households in our prayers. So, in that spirit, let me close this homily with this lovely one from Every Moment Holy by Douglas Kaine McKelvey:
“Many are the things that must be done. Meet me therefore, O Lord, in the doing of the small repetitive tasks: In the cleaning and ordering and maintenance and stewardship of things — of dishes, of floors, of carpets and toilets and tubs, of scrubbing and sweeping and dusting and laundering — That by such stewardship I might bring a greater order to my own life, and to the lives I am given to serve, so that in those ordered spaces bright things might flourish: fellowship and companionship, creativity and conversation, learning and laughter, and enjoyment and health. Amen.”Every Moment Holy, Douglas Kaine McKelvey
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog