If you spend much time surfing around the evangelical blogosphere, you have probably heard about my second book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood (Thomas Nelson). You may have heard that it's a humorous exploration about what the Bible says (and doesn't say) about women, or that it delves into some controversial topics regarding gender, or that it's an abomination that makes a mockery of Scripture and fails to distinguish between the "Old Law" and the New Covenant. Some of these rumors are true; others are not.
Another rumor you may have heard is that the book disparages homemaking. Several readers inferred this from Jen Pollock Michel's recent Her.meneutics article, "What You Don't Know about Complementarian Women," but nothing could be further from the truth.
In A Year of Biblical Womanhood, I devote an entire chapter to homemaking. As I refocused on my own homemaking skills (or lack thereof!), I confess at one point that "it was out of ignorance and insecurity that I ever looked down my nose at women who make homemaking their full-time occupation." Keeping the home, I say, "requires creativity, problem solving, innovation, and resourcefulness."
The chapter concludes with the following reflection. As you'll see, it's in full agreement with Michel's view that keeping a home is sacred and dignifying work:
When Brother Lawrence sought sanctuary from the tumults of 17th-century France, he entered a Carmelite monastery in Paris, where his lack of education relegated him to kitchen duty. Charged with tending to the abbey's most mundane chores, Brother Lawrence nevertheless earned a reputation among his fellow monks for exuding a contagious sense of joy and peace as he went about his work—so much so that after his death, they compiled the few maxims and letters and interviews he left behind into a work that would become a classic Christian text: The Practice of the Presence of God.
"The time of business," explained Brother Lawrence, "does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament."
For Brother Lawrence, God's presence permeated everything—from the pots and pans in the kitchen sink to the water and soap that washed them. Every act of faithfulness in these small tasks communicated his love for God and desire to live in perpetual worship. "It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God," he said.
After reading Brother Lawrence, I tried to go about my housework with a little more mindfulness—listening to each rhythmic swishing of the broom, feeling the warm water rush down my arm and off my fingers as I scrubbed potatoes, savoring the scent of clean laundry fresh out of the dryer, delighting in the sight of all the colorful herbs and vegetables and cheeses on my countertop. And sure enough, I found myself connecting to that same presence that I encountered during contemplative prayer, the presence that reminded me that the roots of my spirit extended deep into the ground. I got less done when I worked with mindfulness, but, somehow, I felt more in control.
I get the sense that many in the contemporary biblical womanhood movement feel that the tasks associated with homemaking have been so marginalized in our culture that it's up to them to restore the sacredness of keeping the home. This is a noble goal indeed, and one around which all people of faith can rally. But in our efforts to celebrate and affirm God's presence in the home, we should be wary of elevating the vocation of homemaking above all others by insinuating that for women, God's presence is somehow restricted to that sphere.
If God is the God of all pots and pans, then He is also the God of all shovels and computers and paints and assembly lines and executive offices and classrooms. Peace and joy belong not to the woman who finds the right vocation, but to the woman who finds God in any vocation, who looks for the divine around every corner.
As Elizabeth Barrett Browning famously put it:
Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
Faith's not about finding the right bush. It's about taking off your shoes.
(From A Year of Biblical Womanhood 2012 by Rachel Held Evans; published by Thomas Nelson. Used with permission. All rights reserved)
I don't expect folks to agree with all my conclusions in A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Any time we write about gender and religion we can expect to get some push back. But I do desire for our discussions are based on truth, and I hope this excerpt helps get us a bit closer to that.