Saturday, July 5, 2014

Household Gods: Home is Where the Focus Is

July 15th will mark the first anniversary of the day we got the keys to our house.  That evening, we walked around, giddy with the newness of it all, giggling to ourselves and at each other, and pulling back carpets to see what surprises lay underneath.  (What shape were the carpets in, you ask?  Well, 18 hours later, all but one of them were pulled up and taken to the dump.  Nuff said?)   The nicest surprise was the original oak flooring in the entryway and living-dining room -- and in pretty good shape, too.  Months later, I would spend many hours carefully pulling up and replacing damaged boards, and with help from the intrepid Gary Moniz, we were to spend hours more refinishing the floors -- and we couldn't be happier with the results.  But in one spot near the front of the room, what we found that first night was an area where there was probably a hearth: replaced with plywood when the carpet was installed, the area was framed by a nicely inlaid pattern of the same oak.  Ultimately, we ended up making a labyrinth pattern with leftovers from the board-replacing process, and Karen installed a tile mosaic in the center.  

End result: what was once a hearth, quite literally the focus (Latin: hearth) of the room, later covered over, was now reclaimed as a focus, a focal point, again.

Now this got me thinking of ancient Rome (because, as Joss Whedon once admitted about a reference that reminded him of the Millennium Falcon, "most things do").  Thinking of ancient Roman religion may conjure up images of temples dedicated to this or that god or goddess, with offerings made in hopes of an answer to prayers for healing, say, or for a patron god to protect their home city.  But Roman religious life was based in the home; based around the table and the hearth; around showing proper thankfulness to, and care for, the household gods.  These were the lares and penates (lar-ays, pen-ah-tays; more here) -- small statues and mementos representing hero-ancestors and guardians of the home, hearth and storerooms.  (Doctor Who fans may remember a lovely reference to them in a 2008 episode set in Pompeii.)

This history lesson has a point: as we continue to set up our home, what "household gods" are in evidence around our beautiful new focus, the former-and-now-repurposed hearth?  It's tempting to think of "hearth and home" as outmoded, when so many of us have homes without fireplaces (or truly functional ones, at least).  But I think it's still a vital question.  What place does a TV -- or other means of visual entertainment -- have vis-a-vis other focal points in our homes?  (It's not for nothing that I've recently placed a Playmobil figure of a Roman centurion atop our TV, as a reminder about this issue before picking up the remote.) 

 What about our smartphones?  Our games?  Our knickknacks and other pretty things that we devote, perhaps, just a little more attention to than they deserve?  And more broadly, what might our practices and habits -- both within our homes and without -- tell us about where our hearts are, well, focused?  Certainly there are good, life-giving answers to these questions; but there are also answers that are good because they reveal tiny little idolatries that we hadn't seen or copped to before.

For where your treasure is, there your heart(h) will be also. 

1 comment:

  1. Clever last line there. I wondered, as I clicked on the link to this post, whether the title was going to be a nod or a wink to Focus on the Family's motto, "Turning our hearts toward home." At least, that used to be its motto back in the 90s, when we listened to it every morning while munching our cereal.
    As we put together our new house, this is a great thing to reflect upon; I hope we can try to be intentional about have a focal point that isn't the laptop (we don't have a TV but a laptop usually acts as a stand in).