Sunday, February 19, 2012
The Housewife's Prayer
Lady, who with tender word
Did keep the house of Christ the Lord,
Who set forth the bread and wine
Before the Living Wheat and Vine,
Reverently did make the bed
Whereon was laid the holy Head
That such a cruel pillow prest
For our behoof on Calvary's crest;
Be beside me while I go
About my labors to and fro.
Speed the wheel and speed the loom,
Guide the needle and the broom,
Make my bread rise sweet and light,
Make my cheese come foamy white;
Yellow may my butter be
As cowslips blowing on the lea.
Homely though my tasks and small,
Be beside me at them all.
Then when I stand face to face
Jesu in the judgment place,
To me thy gracious help afford,
Who art the Handmaid of the Lord.
--Mary Blanche Kelly
There are those who would argue that the Virgin Mary was no one special; she was, after all, only the handmaid of the Lord. Wait--read that again. The Handmaid of the Lord! What mystery is this, that humility and lowliness, servanthood and obedience, are so highly honored? This is the way of God, encapsulated in the conception of Jesus. And here is the vocation of housewife and mother made sacred. I have understood the dignity of this calling as a woman who stays home with her child, but I did not grasp the significance of such a calling in light of the way in which it echoes the life of Mary until I began my journey with her.
By the time I was in college, the designation of "housewife" had been replaced with "homemaker." After all, a woman is not married to her house! And then came the tongue in cheek phrase, "domestic goddess." Elevating the role in the wake of radical feminism was necessary for mothers who chose not to go out into the work force and earn a paycheck, but to dedicate themselves to working within the home, nurturing their families. A stigma soon became attached to this antiquated, "June Cleaver" version of womanhood, no longer relevant and if anything, to be pitied and scorned. This was not real work, and what would a woman do if her husband died or left her? What would become of her children? They would all surely starve.
Trust in one's husband and, more importantly, God, was simply not feasible. One must have a safety net. A paycheck of one's own. Often, breastfeeding one's babies went out the door, a new, career wardrobe was purchased, along with a second car, and the cost of child care was added to the family's financial burden. One has to wonder whether the benefit of a second income, after deducting all of the expenses deriving from it, add up to enough to justify the strain on a family to keep all of the china juggling in the air while balancing on a tightrope. Yes, some families cannot make ends meet with only one income. But on the other hand, how many cases of dual income necessity are really the victory of a consumerist society declaring that to live the "good life" and be happy one needs to accumulate a never-ending pile of stuff? If you didn't buy the 2nd (or 3rd) car, or the office wardrobe, or pay for child care, or spend the extra gas money, or live in a larger house than you needed, would you be required to obtain the 2nd income?
It still tickles me when I remember my husband telling me that he was not the breadwinner type! I imagine his vocation came as much as a surprise to him as mine did to me. After all, I was college educated and beyond, and I was making excellent money. But the fact that my mother stayed home with me and my siblings, the security that provided us, was so important to me that I could not even imagine not giving this gift to my own child. When my husband suggested I might have to work, I cried with my baby still in my belly. It seemed like such a thing would be the end of the world. Even when I was in high school and my mom left the house for a few hours to buy groceries, how I missed her! Nothing felt right, I could not be at ease, until she came back home. Not every woman has the luxury I have. The luxury to be a humble housewife, cleaning the toilet, homeschooling, making meals, sweeping the floor. We just took a leap of faith, I guess. Kind of like Mary, although I hadn't thought of it that way. I trusted my husband to go out and earn the money (although I contribute a small sum as a dance instructor), and he trusted himself, and now I ponder in wonder, "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord." For as I do my work in my own home, it is the same as doing it for Him. That I might be such a lowly, exalted creature!