I dwell in Possibility–
A fairer House than Prose–
More numerous of Windows–
Of Chambers as the Cedars–
Impregnate of Eye–
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky–
Of Visitors–the fairest
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise–
I attended a conference for Catholic Women several years ago where there was a speaker who’s talk was about decorating a Catholic home. There were two things that I walked away with that have stuck with me ever since. The first was the question “would a visitor to your home know you are Catholic just by looking around?” and the second thought was something more vague about your kitchen sink and window being an altar.
I have to admit that my “modern woman ears” hear the words “kitchen sink” and “altar” in the same sentence and the feminists alarm bells start sounding. There is something oppressively patriarchal about the idea that your sink is some sort of altar isn’t there? How could doing the dishes have anything to do with religion unless it was in some sort of “keeping women barefoot and pregnant and in the kitchen”? But then I come to my senses and realize that I really, really like that idea, mostly because I have seen it implemented so well.
My friend Michelle is a wonderful Irish-Catholic woman, mother to nine children with her first grandchild on the way. She is beautiful, a mix of wit and moxie, full of love and joy. Her kitchen window was the first time I have seen an “altar” window. Though I don’t think she would call it that. In fact she called it something like “the whole solar system in my kitchen window” she would declare this while gesticulating expressively then go on to explain the amazing array of sun catchers and glass beads strung across the window, each one catching the light and in its own way special and little items on the sill each one with some tale. All the planets were there each one sparkling. Her children could tell you about them too. It had become a family story something that unified them, educational in a way and entertaining. But it was more. All creation lived in my friend’s noisy happy home. There was joy hidden in the corners and sorrows swept under the carpets and it was all there all the time. The solar system in the window was just one typical little thing. It was something that sprung organically from Michelle’s brain that became something fantastic. It served the same purpose as all our Church’s stain-glassed windows do: it beautifully illustrated Gods creation and made a tiny little kitchen into something whimsical and lovely.
When they moved and had to sell the house one of the things their realtor had told them was that the solar system had to come down. Apparently people looking to buy houses are not as interested in one if it has an eclectic collection of glass and string hanging in the window. It had too much character, was too eccentric, not really normal. Life in Michelle’s house wasn’t typical. Like so many things that God puts His hand into, it was something splendid, but certainly not marketable, and definitely not for everyone.
It takes a certain amount of insanity to be a person of faith to start with. While faith is the most logical reaction to a supernatural experience, I suspect many people are very afraid of God fearing either he is real or he is not, and deeply uncomfortable with either option. So for safety they pull the curtains shut and lock the shutters least the tiniest bit of unexpected supernatural joy slip in. I fear that many more simply feel it is best not to think about it all too much and turn on the TV and close the curtain to prevent glare on the screen. To be alive in faith is to fling the windows full open and let the sun come in and maybe even be like Pollyanna and string a few prisms across the window just for the added rainbows.
So many of my daily tasks center around the kitchen sink, all the cooking and cleaning that can become such drudgery if it is not done with a well motivated heart is often centered around the sink. Making this area lovely, having it reflect our faith to help bring our reflections back to God is a very sensible step in helping stay focused on not just doing the daily, needed tasks of living but living our vocation through those daily tasks. And that is the genius of the kitchen-window as an altar.