We are launching a new "Hope It Forward" project in a few days involving "HOME", a topic so intrinsic to our human experience but so often not discussed from an angle of faith.  We are thrilled to share with you, and we thought a fabulous segue would be a guest post from our lovely and insightful friend, Mary Catherine Stevens.

MC currently lives in Oxford, England with her husband and daughter, but we first came to know each other as sorority sisters in college.  Today, she works as a freelance event planner and graphic designer (working on events from Paris Fashion Week to the 2012 Olympics!), and she always has the most thoughtful approach to a life where the intersection of faith and the arts are second nature (she received a post-grad degree studying that very topic at  the Trinity Forum Academy fellowship). 

For some reason, she gives me credit for helping to encourage her life-long passion and vocation in design as I deemed her my designer for the sorority's rush the year I chaired it, then hired her to help me decorate my first off-campus apartment (I just knew she had MUCH better taste than me!)  Since my stroke, though living an ocean away, she has uniquely encouraged me with mailings of her favorite British chocolates or a small anchor broach she picked up at a  flea market, reminding me that this second chance of life is worthy of celebration and that reminders of beauty and hope and healing should be woven throughout the fabric of our lives, especially in our homes.  Thanks MC for calling us to consider how the spaces we live in draw us closer to the Lord.

{You can read more of her wonderful writings and musings on faith, art, and design here and here.}

"I once heard the story of a simple, frugal missionary family that moved into a remote village to share the gospel of Christ. They developed deep, loving relationships with the people there, and worked tirelessly in sharing the gospel. After months of effort, the family asked one of the villagers why the others seemed so unreceptive to their message. The villager led them inside their own hut and said, “Do you see my headdress, my bracelets, and my face paint?  Have you seen the baskets we weave and the fabrics we wear? Do you see the symbolism, stories, and meaning in the colors? Now look around your home. There is no color here. It is hard for us to accept your good news if you don’t appreciate and interact with the beauty that points to it.”

Now, I can't defend the validity of this tale, but its message has never left me. A similar one comes from Isak Dinesen’s timeless piece, “Babette’s Feast”. If you haven’t read the brilliant work or seen the film, I won’t spoil it for you, but the plot involves a pious religious group that has intentionally removed from their lives every beautiful thing, out of fear that they may fall into idolatry or envy, or be distracted from their service to God. But somewhere along the way, this lifestyle has taken its toll on the villagers' once-joyful spirits and their relationships with each other. When it comes to pass that a beautiful and sensuous feast is prepared for this small community to share together, a remarkable transformation unfolds in each character over the meal.

The message that I take home from these stories is that beauty is a medium through which we both recognize and share powerful truths about our faith and our God.  And so, when I think about our role as Christians and kingdom builders in our own world today, I wonder: How do we create, experience, and interact with beauty in our everyday lives? Surely such encounters with beauty should begin in our own homes.

It isn’t hard to recognize the role of consumerism on our culture.  And unfortunately, it’s the quickest, trendiest, and cheapest items that are thrown at us almost constantly.  When it comes to home décor, this concept of  'quick', 'cheap', and worst of all, 'disposable' keeps me from getting a good night's sleep at times. I can’t help but wonder if living in a space filled with such things would make the occupants themselves feel temporary, disposable, mass-produced, and cheap? I know I’ve been in spaces devoid of individual beauty and attention, and I am always eager to find my way out of them.

There have been countless studies (like this and this) that point to the effects that space, color, and beauty have on our brain’s ability to function and thrive. And for Christians, I feel there is even more to be considered.  I believe that as His image bearers, we are called to surround ourselves in homes that speak to the good, the true, and the beautiful. The vintage hand-made quilt in the corner of the room, the still life oil painting, the fresh-cut flowers on the table … these are material items, but they serve as pointers to something greater. Our home, as Ingrid Trobisch calls it, should be our  ‘geborgenheit’: “Geborgenheit is a German word that means a place of safety or security.” It is part of our role as image-bearers to create ‘geborgenheits’ in which we may live, grow and worship, and better yet, into which we may invite others. These spaces should comfort, heal, inspire, and point others and ourselves toward the ultimate beauty of our Lord.

As Christians, we are also called to strive against the cultural norms of the world around us – to be ‘set apart’, and to be builders of a new kingdom. We can practice this even when decorating our homes. We can turn against the trends of consumerism, cheap goods, and massive amounts of waste so that our homes point towards truth and redemption. Now don’t get me wrong, I love picking up the cutest new throw pillow from T.J. Maxx (or T.K. Maxx as we have over the pond), but I overall try to fill my home with timeless, second-hand pieces that add beauty, depth, richness, and story to my space. There is a sense of discovery and excitement over finding a lost second-hand treasure, and there is also a sense of redemption: of making old things new, of finding beauty in something lost, of finding purpose and identity in something set aside that can grace your home with its own unique history and style.

I encourage you to take a look around you. Spend some time reflecting on beauty and its role in your life and others'. What does it mean to be a steward of the good, the beautiful, and the true, even in our homes and in the spaces in which we find ourselves? How can beautiful spaces speak of the divine and of redemption, and what is our role in creating such spaces?"