By Fr Donald Chambers
With the advent of the recent social distancing practice, some argue that the ecclesial soil is fertile for the growth of the ‘domestic church.’ The term ‘domestic church’ surfaced at Vatican II (Lumen Gentium) to describe the ecclesial reality of marriage and family life.
However, I would like to use a radical term, ‘domestic space’, meaning a home-like environment that includes, not only the family, but also the workplace and the virtual world. I posit that the fundamental characteristics of this domestic space offer us sign posts recalling parishes and families, in particular, to return to basics.
Lonni Pratt (Radical Hospitality) reminds us why we need to retreat to basic. She writes, “Much of what has gone wrong in our faith and intimate communities involves misguided attempts to simplify complex ideas, rather than allowing the human soul to expand, consider, deal with conflicts within and without.”
Homes and parishes have become like dysfunctional exclusive social clubs lacking in hospitality, and therefore restricting memberships. I wish to ponder the question, ‘How is the domestic space recalling us home?’.
Prayer as ritual, rhythm, and routine
A key characteristic of the domestic space of the virtual world (Facebook, WhatsApp) is the routine and rhythmic devotion of the members to the space. Members routinely post messages, videos, and pictures to celebrate, congratulate, empathise, and encourage each other.
This habitual rhythmic commitment points to the core of sustaining prayer. Rolheiser writes, “We’re human beings . . . chronically too tired, dissipated, and torn in various directions to sustain prayer on the basis of feelings or emotions. We need . . . ritual—rhythm, a routine.”
Years ago, I witnessed a similar routine devotion in a family member. A young cousin of mine was comatose in a children’s hospital in Kingston, Jamaica, as a result of a motor vehicle accident.
A resident in rural Jamaica, his father took leave from his job, moved into the city, and every day at the same hour, he visited and spent time at his son’s bedside for several months until he recovered. Despite feelings of tiredness, distractions, and frustration, he turned up.
The non-negotiable rule for prayer, according to Rolhesier is, “Show up! Show up regularly! The ups and downs of our minds and hearts are of secondary importance.”
Prayer is very similar to the rhythmic routine of the virtual space and actions of this father.
Spirituality of parenting
Dr Wendy Wright, a mother and theologian, reminds us that, “Becoming a parent . . . reshapes the heart in a unique way, molding it more and more to be compassionate as God is compassionate.”
Exemplary parenting certainly strips you emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually, takes you into the mess and muck of poverty, yet enriches you with grace.
How does this happen? Rolheiser suggests that, “Being a mother or a father stretches the heart, just as the womb is stretched in pregnancy.”
Recently, I viewed an Indian movie filmed within a Hindu background, entitled Evening Shadows. When the homosexual orientation of an only son was revealed, his angry father invited Hindu priests to perform a funeral ritual for the son.
In contrast, the mother angrily rebuked the priests and father with these words, “I may not understand the choice of our son. . . But what I do know is that for nine months I carried him in my womb. When he was studying, learning, playing, injured I was there for him. Where were you? This house is our house and therefore his home. He will stay here.”
Children tend to take their parents through the “valley of the shadow of death” as a result of their choices or circumstances of life. In this complex valley of the domestic space, many parents have learnt not to disown their children.
Sacredness of time
While there is general agreement that our break-neck speed lifestyle prevents us from valuing family or prayer time, this pandemic teaches us that time is a gift. “Time, not our time” (TS Eliot).
The domestic space of the home and work reminds us that the ongoing circumstances of life such as illness, work, play or relaxation are like a monastic bell that says it’s time to end one activity and move on to the next (St Benedict), not because we feel like it, but because it is time to feed a crying baby, to complete a project, or submit a report.
Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic reminds us that humans, the environment, societies, and communities need to pay attention to the sacredness of time to rest and to renew.
In this regard, the domestic space of the virtual world has been a gift in this time enabling us to sustain relations, forge networks, and heighten communication.
Life in the domestic space is imperfect. Within its imperfection, however, the grace of God is present, inviting us to initiate a closer relationship, not just with the domestic church (the home), but with the wider domestic space. In this relationship we must listen deeply to its heart, feel its soul, dialogue with it, and commune with it.
Fr Donald Chambers of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica is the General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference.