I am glad to be back in this old house after a week in Houston at the Renovare conference. The conference was rich and powerful, as they always are, and my 6-hour intensive workshop went well. I was able to connect with old and new friends, sight-see in a place I had never been before, and connect with some of our wonderful summer neighbors. Seeing their houses in Houston helped fill out what I know of them from having them as neighbors every summer. A house tells a lot about a person.
What does your living space say about you?
One of things I talked about in my workshop for the Renovare conference is the idea that art and culture forms us, for good or ill. Often, we are not consciously aware of what we surround ourselves with day-after-day at home, at work, and in our worship spaces. The music, art, books, and popular culture that we see or hear everyday impacts our spiritual formation toward or away from God. In the workshop, I had the participants draw a box for each room of their house and then one for their corporate worship space. In each box, I asked them to list the art and cultural items in it. It was eye-opening for some of them. For example, one person noted that the only thing in her guest room was a bed and a mirror. She wondered what that said about what she thought about her guests! How would you feel going to stay in a room like that?
Here are some things to ask yourself about your living space as you think about the spiritual formation each room has on you:
1. Do you like your living space as a whole? Why or why not?
2. Are there some rooms you like better than others? List specifically what you like about those rooms. What could be done to make the less favorite spaces more appealing?
3. What does the art on the walls say about God and about humanity?
4. What kind of books are in the room?
5. Do you listen to music in that room? If so, what kind? Do you sit and listen or is it background to other activities? Are there any rooms where it is possible to find silence?
6. How many TVs do you have? Where are they placed in each room? What does their placement indicate about their role in that room? For example, in a home entertainment room, one would expect that the TV would be rather prominent but if you have a TV in your bedroom, how dominate is it?
7. Do you have items that remind you of hurtful times or past relationships, or gifts that you felt obligated to display? What would it mean to get rid of them?
8. Would you describe your living space as full or sparse? Open or more enclosed? Clear or cluttered?
9. Go outside and come in the front door. Pretend you are a first-time guest. What is the first thing you see? What does it say about you? Is that a message you embrace? Do the same experiment with other doors into your house.
10. If you have a yard or patio/balcony area, is it a peaceful place? Why or why not? If you don’t, how present is nature in your house? Are there lots of windows or house plants? Do you have a pet?
11. What is the predominant color in your living space? Outside? Do those colors reflect your internal colors?
12. Is your living space quiet or noisy? If it is more noisy, where is the noise coming from? Is it comforting noise or quiet?
13. Is your living space conducive to creative living? For example, do you have adequate work space for hobbies or other creative pursuits?
14. Does each member of the household have a private/personal space?
15. Does your living space radiate health or unhealth?
These are the kinds of questions we need to begin asking to understand how our environments shape us. These questions can be also be asked, with some modifications, to critique our corporate worship spaces. For example, ask what is the main focus when you come to worship? Does the space help or hinder worship? Are the colors conducive to good worship? And so on and so forth.
Our environment, inside and out, impacts us, for good or for ill. Some things we have no control over but many others we can change or at least mitigate somewhat if they are negative. Environmental art and culture are especially important to assess for the children who will be regularly using those spaces. School classroom art and colors all make a statement about what the school/teacher believe about children and learning.
Art and culture and its relationship to spiritual formation is a huge topic and one that I don’t hear a lot of discussion around in terms of spiritual formation. (Lane and I put a chapter in our book “The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation.”) What are your thoughts and experiences with this? I would love to hear.