I’m excited to share with you this next submission to our Meaningful Home series. The series has been inspired by G.K. Chesterton’s advice “It is the main earthly business of a human being to make his home, and the immediate surroundings of his home, as symbolic and significant to his own imagination as he can.” Our friend Helen Moineau is an Anglican missionary in Croatia with her husband and two young children. She writes from the perspective of moving over a dozen times in the last six years. You can find her on Instagram (@helen.wildrose).
There’s a battered cardboard box sitting in my closet, where multiple times a year I seem to find myself either packing or unpacking its contents: pieces of our family’s simple prayer corner and home altar. Our family has been in overseas ministry for several years now, and between raising support, traveling, living in multiple countries, plans falling through, and just honest and simple failure at times, we’ve had the odd circumstance of having moved over a dozen times in the past six years.
Each time our life and home are uprooted, I tearfully pack this little box once again, gently laying inside a couple of simple candles, a cross, and a few favourite icons. I find myself in reflection again and again, my heart aching at the process of settling once more into a new home. This slowly growing collection of candles and images represents a growing, developing faith over the years. But even more so, this altar space which is packed and repacked into the same old box again and again, reveals a faith that is steadfast and unchanging within our family. No matter how badly plans in life go, no matter the uprooting and lack of certainty, we still meet together as a family in prayer and worship once again. This prayer space of ours may hang on a new wall or rest on a new shelf every few months, but our faith, Christ’s presence in our lives, the daily breathing in and out of family prayer, it all continues on, despite our circumstances and frustrations. A simple candle still burns brightly, representing Christ among us, the Light of the world.
The instability of the past several years for us has also driven home the truth that very little is needed in making a meaningful place for prayer in the home. A simple candle, repurposed bottles for flowers, and a cross are more than enough. It truly doesn’t have to be fancy or costly. We especially love using beeswax candles when we can, for the unique warmth and homey quality of their light. And we always gather whatever flowers are growing in season, whether cultivated in our garden, or more often than not, just wildflowers found here and there. This is a meaningful practice for us as well, since certain flowers and plants have attributed qualities or associations within Christianity. Marigolds, lilies, or roses for the Blessed Virgin, especially during the month of May, Mary’s Month. Sprigs of lavender, which legends says gained their scent from Mother Mary laying the Christ Child’s clothes to dry upon lavender bushes in the sunshine, which ever after bore its strong aroma in remembrance of Him. Or wild roses, which every bud across England was said to have blossomed simultaneously in celebration at Christ’s birth. These are beautiful bits of folklore and legends that are lovely to keep alive; whether or not they are historical fact, they still hearken back to deeper spiritual truths.
We’ve slowly received various icons or pieces of artwork as gifts over the years, each so meaningful to us. But one funny little trick I pulled off for placing more areas of meaningful beauty around the home was found in the literal pages of an old used book I had. It was a very brief overview of Eastern Christianity and Orthodoxy, only a dozen or so pages long, but filled with gorgeous, full-page images of famous icons and artwork. After reading the small book in a short fifteen minutes, I quickly decided that these ancient, beautiful images would serve us best if carefully cut out and hung around the house. It was odd cutting up this small book, but the pages now grace our walls and fill our home with reminders of the Saints who have gone before us and of central moments in Christ’s life.
A few key areas of contemplation and meaningful beauty are set up around our house, but the most prominent is our altar space in our living room, a central location to pass throughout the day and be reminded of our faith and the presence of the Holy Spirit among us. In the kitchen, I have another area set up, which is especially meaningful for me to shape a godly presence of mind as I am about my motherly duties. I have several images of the Blessed Virgin, which are particularly encouraging to me as I seek to imitate her faith and devotion to God’s will, as a woman and as a mother. My favourite of these images hangs over our tea/coffee corner, where I like to gaze up at her and the Christ Child for a few moments while making another cup of something hot to sip on.
My husband Taylor also has a special wall of his favourite icons beside his desk where he works and studies. His favourite of them is the replica of the well known Christ Pantocrator of St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt. This, along with our wall cross, was our very first piece we bought for our family altar after we first got married. It’s heartwarming to see how much our faith has grown and developed in the years since then, in these outward, tangible places of quiet and holiness around the home, but also as an inward reflection of our hearts and minds most of all
Lastly, I thought some of you might enjoy a peek at our shelf of prayer books we frequently use. Of course, The Book of Common Prayer is there, but I also have a deep love for Celtic Christianity as well, and I enjoy Celtic Daily Prayer by the Northumbria Community, Praying with Celtic Saints, Prophets, Martyrs, and Poets and John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us. Another favourite of ours is Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book, which is filled with many additional prayers and litanies for use throughout the liturgical year.
If you would like to share a contribution to this ongoing series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.