Returning Our Focus to Hearth and Home

January 21, 2022
Hearth and Home

(Note: I’ve been writing a Religion column for our local newspaper, The Mountaineer. As I own the copyright, I’m reposting select pieces here).

Winifred Saner is not one to miss church. But very often, the church she attends is right outside in her garden.

“I can go out there and pull weeds, meditate, pray. Probably more prayers have been said there than in the house. Because you’re alone out there, you’re with nature, you realize what God is doing with these little tiny seeds that you plant. There’s a certain faith that comes from that.”

For Winifred and her husband, Leroy, gardening is a sacred practice. The way their hands encounter the seeds and soil God has created. In the human connections that both precede and outlast them—Winifred learning gardening from her mother, the Saners planting a community garden for others, how they invite friends around the table to share in food grown in their own backyard. This simple task of gardening draws them closer to what is real. What is holy. What is foundational to life and living.

The Saner’s story is one of many told in the book, Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractionsby Arthur Boers. Boers, an ordained minister and former seminary professor, wants us to escape the distractions of technology and live life firsthand. And so, he shares different “focal practices” that can reset our foundation to build up what’s real and true.

Certainly, worship is a focal practice. Reading Scripture. Prayer. But so are activities we might consider less spiritual and more ordinary: sharing meals, meeting for coffee, playing live music, walking, hiking; activities like cooking, washing dishes, reading together, telling stories, pottery, letter-writing, wood-working, quilting, going to concerts, volunteering and, yes…gardening.

How are such activities holy? Because they nudge us a bit closer to God. When we more directly engage the natural world; when we gather together with humans created in God’s image, when we labor and play in ways not dependent on the virtual reality of technology, we’ll find ourselves closer to the center where God awaits. God is always speaking, but we must usually silence the noise of human progress and superiority to better hear him.

Before the age of central air, says Boers, people used to gather in homes around the fireplace hearth or woodstove. Except in the warmest months, this was where you came to get warm. It was also usually near the kitchen where food and meals were prepared and eaten. And so, the fireplace hearth was the center—or heart—of the home. Family and friends shared meals, played games, read books or worked on a craft. The hearth was where you laughed and talked and knew you belonged. 

Boers reveals that the word “focus” comes from the Latin word for “hearth.” And so, we must ask: Where is our focus? Our hearth? Our center?

As Scripture reminds us: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

About John Michalak

A best-selling author and speaker, John Michalak has spent more than 25 years encouraging others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is available at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and most everywhere books are sold.

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