So I’ve been slowly inching my way through The Little Oratory. (I’m almost done with the other book I’m reading for to months and when I’ve done with that then I’m sure I’ll finish up The Little Oratory fairly quickly.) If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I’ve blogged extensively about religious art in the home and praying the Liturgy of the Hours with kids. So I’m not starting off from scratch, but the book is inspiring me think more deliberately about what I’m doing and what I want to do in the future and in general is bringing greater focus to my efforts, which tend to fizzle out and become lackluster over time. I know it might seem like I’m a superwoman of prayer, but I tend to blog when I hit the high places and so capture the really great moments… but our daily life really is much more of a slog.
Anyway. As I read I’m thinking about prayer and art and being deliberate with both. I’m thinking about the space we live in and how to shape it best to suit our needs. Our house is a small space. Very limited. There really isn’t room to do with it what I’d really like. So anything I do will be a compromise. But I’m not going to rant about the house, I’m not going to rant about the house.
This is going to be a thinking out loud post. The first step is to simply take stock of what is. Then I can think about what I might like to be.
So here’s the deal. When we were first married I didn’t have very much in the way of religious art. And when Bella was a toddler I started to have this desire for things to look at to help me to pray but mostly to help her. I wanted beautiful pictures and statues to inspire and to create an atmosphere. At the time Dom was out of work and we had really no resources to go out and get things. So I prayed about it. Almost immediately things started to fall into my lap. And now seven years later I see how abundantly my prayers were answered as I look about and see the bounty of beauty in my home. (My very untidy, rather dirty home, make no mistake about that. I have five very little kids.) My goal that I set was to have a crucifix in every room of our home and a picture of Mary likewise in every room. Also, I wanted a statue of Mary.
And now we most definitely have that. And then some.
So the other day I went through the house taking photos of what is here. And at that I didn’t actually photograph everything. just the important groupings.
My question I’m seeking to answer is how can I use all these things to make focal points for prayer that we will actually use? At least I think that’s the question.
The Living Room
So let’s start our tour by the front door. Here’s a little icon of the holy family that a nice couple that we knew from daily mass gave us as a wedding present.
The placement of this image was very deliberate, a prominent placing of the Holy Family. I like to see them as I’m going in and out, notice them when I grab my keys, ask them to watch over our family.
Other art in the living room that I didn’t photograph: a print of the Penitent Magdalene by Georges de la Tour; Annunciation and Resurrection by Fra Angelico, Madonna and Child print in a frame that matches the Annunciation and Resurrection; wooden statue of Holy Family on the windowsill, crucifix on wall, house blessing on wall.
The Dining Room
Next is the main shelf that as Dom points out is right at the center of our home. At the heart. For that reason it sort of works, even though this spot isn’t a good one to stop and pray. This is the major hallway into the bedrooms, it’s in the dining room, looking over our table.
The big icon is one my parents bought in Venice. It is hand painted on glass. A valuable work of original art. It’s my great treasure. The kids bring flowers to put here and sometimes I do too. I do sometimes stop to pray, especially last thing before I go to bed, asking Mary to watch over my family and my home.
But you can see the shelf has a tendency to gather clutter. And below it is the cookbook shelf and the top of that is sort of my junk drawer. I’m dissatisfied with this space in many ways, even as I like it in others. On the shelf is a rather random assortment of images. There are three relics: of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, and St Faustina (she was Blessed Faustina at the time we received the relic and that’s what the card says). I’ve put them in nice frames and one reason I wanted this shelf was to have a place to display them properly instead of being stuck on a bookshelf with flotsam.
If you turn to the right from this shelf you’ll see this beautiful image of the Madonna and Child that I bought from the Vatican museum when I was in Rome. Above it is the San Damiano cross that Father Murphy, our former pastor and the priest who married us and who baptized our three oldest kids, brought us as a housewarming present when we moved in here and he came to bless the house.
I can see them from my usual seat at the table. They hang right over where Lucy usually sits and are on your right as you head back to the bedrooms.
As you are looking at this wall, behind you is another Madonna, this one by Ingres. We received it as a wedding present and somehow it just seems fitting to have the Madonna of the Eucharist presiding over our dining room, reminding us of our true food. She also hangs over the whiteboard we use for school.
Next, the kitchen. I don’t think this needs any tweaking. As you can see I have a couple focal points, both above different work stations. Also, behind me as I stand at the sink I have a crucifix and a religious art calendar.
I suppose this photo really should be in the living room set, but I’m too lazy to move it and rewrite the caption.
I do think each bedroom should have a place for each individual to pray. Room for images of saints each person has a devotion to, room to go and be alone and pray. I figure if I create the space the kids will use it as they need it. Mostly I’m happy with this, even though there are multiple focal points, I think generally it can work.
First, my room:
When I’m siting in bed this is where my eyes drift. I frequently stop here as I go in and out the door. When I put Lucy to bed, we stop and say goodnight to Jesus and Mary and kiss the crucifix.
This corner shelf is nice, but the placement on the far side of the room, on Dom’s side of the bed, makes it impossible to really see when I’m sitting in my usual spot on the bed. So it’s a nice place to store and display art but not a useful focal point for prayer.
I framed these two postcards I bought in Europe and hung them near my bed. Mary nursing Jesus. It just feels right. Lucy likes to say goodnight to them. I don’t know if they are really so much a prayer aid as art that I find beautiful and inspiring. If you can really make a distinction. I’m not so sure.
The girls’ room:
I first put up this shelf near the door in the girl’s room. I put it up high deliberately to keep little hands off of breakables. But it’s not very accessible and I’m not sure it really works well except that it manages to display things while at the same time protecting them until they are old enough to be trusted not to break them.
Bella has a hard time just leaving her things on the shelf or the wall when they were hung there. She wants to take them down, move them, carry them around. They get lost and broken. I got the shelf because the pictures wouldn’t stay on the wall, but they don’t stay on the shelf either. I tried, but she’s a hard nut to crack.
Sophie’s things have a tendency to wander off too. Lucy probably contributes and the boys and Bella. Or maybe Sophie doesn’t worry about curating the space. If she wanted to set her mind to it, I suspect she could keep it tidy and everything in its place.
The boys’ room:
I put up a shelf, again to hold statues and other things I don’t want lost of broken. On the wall underneath are a collection of saints and a crucifix and guardian angels.
Anthony has a similar cluster of saints images and a crucifix above his bed.
So I think what I really want to change now is to make a deliberate focal point in the living room. Dom wants to move the shelf from the dining room. I’d sort of prefer that shelf to remain there and to add a new shelf or table in the living room. So first we have to decide that. Then I have to decide what to add. The problem with the current shelf in the dining room is that it’s too cluttered and crowded. I want something simpler. Which means, though, that I have to find homes for the various objects on that shelf that don’t belong in a formal living room oratory space. Then I need to decide which works I do want to be our focal points. Recognizing that it can shift and fluctuate according to liturgical season and family need.
This is sort of the opposite dilemma to the one the book imagines: the family who have no art and must go out and get some. That’s sort of the rationale for including icons in the book that are meant to be removed and framed and used.
Anyway, I hope to follow up this post with a real review and more thoughts about the book, about prayer, who knows. I have more to say, I’m just not yet sure what.