“You’re always looking for home,” she said. “For as long as I’ve known you and in your reminiscences of the time before then, you’ve always been seeking home—trying to create it, to nurture it, to settle into it. You are all about safe havens.”
She’s right, I see. I look back over a lifetime of nearly half a century and I’ve always been restless and determined at the same time. Restless, because I hungered for home for a very long time. Determined, because as soon as I was the wife and the mother in the scenario, I endeavored to create the place I’d long been seeking.
There is a little desk in my home, above it are hung icons, upon it are still more icons and a wooden cross given to me by the missionary friend who observed my need for home from her own faraway mission house. There has always been such a place in our home, a corner or a nook, a place set apart from the brisk efficiency of the rest of the house, yet still at the heart of my home. It’s a place where my day begins, in sometimes fleeting silence, with the Lover of my soul. It’s the place where my children know they can find me as morning washes over the house. I never knew it had a name. But it does. It’s the Little Oratory.
Situated there in the front room, between two pretty windows, I pass by it dozens of times every day. The icons and the statues change as the seasons change and as our prayer needs change. I like to leave it mostly uncluttered and so, I store items in the desk and usually keep the dropdown door closed. I’m sure somewhere along the way, I must have read about a place like this, but it seems to have grown there on its own, a gift of grace. It is the actual meeting of my needs, I am sure, that has grown organically over 25 years of mothering—a need for the constant reminder of the Lord and His friends, with me always, cheering on this endeavor, offering real and tangible helps towards holiness; and a need for the prayer that happens in this space throughout the day.
I’ve never had a crisis of faith. Never. All my life, by some great grace, I’ve believed God is real and the He loves me and that He offered His life to save mine. I have experienced crises of religion—moments or seasons of doubt about what is the way that God intends for man to approach Him. And somehow, by the same grace that created an oratory in my home when I didn’t even know such a thing existed, I reached in those times of doubt for the Liturgy of the Hours. And Jesus met me there. Every time.
For years now, my day has been anchored by the Liturgy of the Hours. Morning begins with the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer. I seek Him again at noontime and again at the hour of mercy. Days end in the bedroom of my three littlest girls, praying Night Prayer together. And if the youngest does not fall asleep in prayer, she requests Evening Prayer following Night Prayer. Every night, she wants to fall asleep to the sound of words of scripture rising in the ancient prayer of the Church. It’s just what we do. It’s good. It’s home.
And I can’t really tell you how we got here except to be very sure Jesus led us.
Last winter, sitting in the chair my children call “The Bible Chair,” I read about home. I read about a seamless life, a household infused with authentic Catholic culture. I read a way to infuse a house with the most important things that make it a home—a haven in which all who enter grow in holiness. It was a book of deep thoughts and lofty ideas, it was a book that can and will change the culture, one family at a time. Admittedly, there were times when I put that PDF version aside (a little frustrated with readability of the advanced copy, but mostly feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all). I’d look up at what I already had, think about what we already did, and wonder to myself, “How am I ever going to fully embrace even more?”
Today, I flip through my beautiful (and easy-to-read) real, live book version and I see that at the very beginning I’ve underlined “Isn’t all of this to help us through life rather than to make it more difficult?”
Yes. Yes, it is. The whole point of Liturgy is to bring us closer to God and the closer we are to Him, the more we are open to the grace freely given to sustain us. Your oratory won’t look like my oratory. More importantly, your oratory won’t live like my oratory. At its essence, oratory means house of prayer. Every family lives differently in such a home. No doubt, the vocation to create such a place is a high calling and an endeavor for a lifetime.
But you can do it.
The moment when I knew that this book would become dog-eared and tattered, that it would be a gift to every new bride in our family? The moment I read these words:
Freedom is the watchword. In this book, we are trying to present traditions in the hopes that they will attract your imagination and help your prayer life and that of your family. Of necessity, we are trying to be as complete as possible. But if all this information and detail is not helping, don’t feel burdened. The traditions are just ways of doing that have the blessing of being time-tested, but they are not meant to be rules or rigid, constricting thoughts that take all your energy.
If something sparks and helps your creativity, then we’ve succeeded and the idea has succeeded. If not, let it go. Prayer is simply a relationship with God, who knows you and loves you, not a prescribed set of actions or ideas to check off. You can do it however you like.
What’s the Little Oratory? It’s not a decorating style. It’s not liturgically correct cupcakes (though you may decorate and eat cupcakes if you like and someone will, no doubt, love you for it). It’s not a to-do list. It’s both a physical and a spiritual place to meet God and to enter into a deep and personal relationship with Him that will bless you and spill out onto everyone you meet.
Let’s spend the summer in that place. Come every Wednesday. We’ll read a chapter at a time. We’ll share ideas and struggles and triumphs. Leila Lawler, whose thoughtful words have brought us this keeper of a book, will be here, too. You’ll hear her voice as we talk together and share podcasts that further personalize the daily living out of this seamless life of faith. Come back! Bring your friends! Let’s grow together in faith and grace and abundant summer joy!