For me there is something satisfying about giving your house a good scrub and then sitting down in the midst of organization and cleanliness to enjoy a good book and a cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon. More than an abstract satisfaction associated with cleaning, I feel it like a satisfaction of putting your own space in order. There is something unique about home, a kind of familiarity that develops into a special sort of appreciation. In my case, I can tell where the cat is walking by the creak of particular floorboards, I know exactly which spaces get the right sort of light for reading a book, and each corner of home has potent memories associated with it. Housekeeping offers a way of defending the importance of the bundle of memories and reflexes which we associate with our home.
This can extend beyond the walls of your apartment and function on a city-level too. I’m always excited to run into someone from my hometown of Seattle as no one else understands the many things (refined appreciation of well-roasted coffee or a love of the mixed smells of rain and cedar trees) which are unique to my geographical home. There is an unavoidably intimate bond you share with a person who has drunk in the same smells and sights over a lifetime. New places that we experience get absorbed into our place-memory, but we nevertheless tend to experience an anchoring in time and place.
Contrary to what some might think, this familiarity is actually an experience that we share with God. The writer of the gospel of John surely had this in mind when he recounts, “So the Word became flesh; he made his home among us” (Jn 1:14 REB). In John’s original Greek, the word translated as “made his home” (literally “tabernacled”) refers back to the Tabernacle in Exodus, where we are also reminded that God asked the people to make space for him to be with them in a way that resonates with our own unique anchoring in place and time. But the suggestion here isn’t that God becomes a permanent guest staying in our space, but rather than he takes up residence in our home along with us, sharing our intimate emplaced experience with us.
While other religious traditions emphasise the distance of God from men and our dusty spaces, Jesus uniquely emphasised his sharing in our embeddedness. And contrary to what we might expect, this intimacy does not diminish the power of God. Instead, the familiarity that brings satisfaction to housekeeping is another form of the intimacy known by the maker of all time and space.