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Why my wife stays up too late and my kids hang out in the attic

IMAGINATION

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Fr. Michael Rennier - published on 01/09/22

Something amazing can happen in our homes if we let it.

This Christmas, my 10-year old son used his knife carving toolkit to make a wooden teddy bear for his sister. It was his gift to her, one that required countless hours to hand-craft. When it was all carved, he sanded and painted it. “It’s probably the best Christmas gift I’ve ever given,” he proudly declared. I agree. Yes, it really is.

Our children all take after their mother in their interest to hand-craft all sorts of beautiful objects – decorations for our home, toys, gifts. Over the past month, I’ve caught my wife many times staying up entirely too late into the night embroidering intricate designs to give as gifts.

It’s a veritable explosion of creativity in my home. In the attic, a wall mural is being carefully painted. Sweaters are knitted. Weaponry and medieval armor is pieced together out of sticks and rubber bands. Calligraphy was a fad with us for a while. Baking is constant. The same song is practiced at the piano over and over again until my ears are bleeding.

I don’t know how we got this way, but I love it.

Growing up I always wanted to become a painter. I never quite got there, but now I’m able to be creative with writing. It’s a joy to watch my children take up their own passions and put in hard work to create beauty in our home. As they age, the skill they put into it has matured into some truly accomplished results. It isn’t kid stuff. It’s serious, mature creativity that has improved all of our lives, whether that be the food we eat, the flowers in the yard, or the paintings that adorn the walls.

William Morris’ wisdom

Several years ago, when we moved into our house, I splurged on purchasing new lamps and a bedspread. They’re covered in intricate designs by William Morris, a man who spearheaded the Arts and Crafts movement in the 19th century, which emphasized traditional craftsmanship and the importance of having a beautifully decorated home in which to live. The work he created continues to inspire a group of Morris enthusiasts.

Even more than his artistic talent, I’m inspired by his philosophy, which he sums up in one simple quote; “If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

The way I understand him, his advice is to prioritize beauty, creativity, and quality over consumerism and mass-production. Of course, having beautiful, high-quality items in your home can be expensive. It’s out of the price range for most of us to buy an original work of art or handmade, artisan furniture. The way Morris might answer that objection is to advise us all to have fewer things, but of higher quality. No worries, though. If we can’t afford to purchase everything we want, we have an even better option. We can make it.

Of course, no one is expert enough to make everything, but based on how I’ve seen my children practice and improve and create, we can achieve way more than we think.

The value of making beauty in your home

There’s something special about having a home full of beauty, knowing that your family has personally contributed to the effort that created it. I value the paintings my daughter has made more than I would a Picasso because the beauty our children have contributed to the world is an emblem of their love. They are so happy to be alive, so astonished by the idea that they get to wake up and live yet another day, that they celebrate by sharing the creativity that first brought them into existence. They become co-creators along with our Heavenly Father. They probably wouldn’t explain it this way – in their childlike innocence they intuitively understand it – but as you can see, I’ve thought about it deeply.

Creativity is calming. It brings us home to ourselves. As Morris advises, “A good way to rid one’s self of a sense of discomfort is to do something. That uneasy, dissatisfied feeling is actual force vibrating out of order; it may be turned to practical account by giving proper expression to its creative character.”

This is exactly how I feel when I’ve completed writing an essay, as though I’ve brought a tiny piece of the universe into orderliness by bringing to expression a beautiful idea and making it real. Figuring out that idea, working to express it well, and then sharing it with others brings me endless joy.

If you wish to expand and express your love for being alive; if you’re in a melancholic phase, or feeling out of sorts, make something beautiful. Whether you paint, write, cook, garden, knit, or carve little wooden bears, it’s all more valuable than you might think. Like little children, we can each put our heart and skill into our chosen objects of beauty and present the effort to God as our gift. Maybe it’ll be best you’ve ever given.

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