Why are the domestic arts worth doing?
This question kept coming to my mind. I was speaking with my neighbor who had a wonderfully abundant little garden this past summer. He even had many late tomatoes. Right before the first frost he had harvested all the green ones left that were on the tomato plants and ripened them indoors. He had worked and worked and made a large batch of sauce. When we spoke together he said when all was said and done he wasn’t sure if it was worth the work or if he should have just bought a jar of sauce for a dollar and avoided all the work.
Every time I approach gardening, canning, sewing, or learning a new domestic art the unavoidable question in my mind, after the initial zeal of starting the new project has worn off, is “Is it worth it?”. Some intuition within said that these skills and arts are just “good”. Like the “good” that the Lord used after creation. Then the question became, “Why are they good?”. I’ve been investigating this question a bit and have found that far greater thinkers than I have also had this question and have answered with multitudinous reasons for the goodness of the domestic arts. By the domestic arts I mean here those skills that tend toward a plentiful, self-sufficiency of the home and homestead.
Some of the reasons that most struck me were, the ability to have more hands on contact with reality which ultimately leads to a humble awe of God and His providence, the creation of an environment that is not hostile to but promotes a contemplative heart and an active mind, the appreciation of the material value and quality of things, and the sense of value that attaining these accomplishments can offer to an individual who is sharing them with their family. Yes, the domestic arts are worth doing.
Now the problem is that if most folks are like me, these are not skills that I were taught growing up. Modern American Catholic family life is very compartmentalized. Faith is private and personal, Church is Church, work is needed for the wage, wage is needed for all the necessities and more. It all seems rather separated. It’s hard for our faith to be integrated into all areas of our life. The domestic arts seem to be cute hobbies or extras. They are seen as a nostalgic connection with the “good old days”. So, even if we come to the point of believing that the domestic arts are good in themselves, than we can be overwhelmed by how far apart our present lifestyle and our vision of an integrated Catholic lifestyle are. All of these individual skills need to be learned for the first time for most of us. This can be very daunting as anyone who has tried using a sewing pattern for the first will understand. This task requires a re-learning and training in the means and ends of living an integrated Catholic life really. In this day and age this work of become integrated self sufficient Catholic homes could take a life time or more and may even be impossible. But perhaps the goal is not to attain the whole vision, perhaps “the great aim of training is to begin at the very beginning, naturally and supernaturally, and reconstruct Catholic life step by step.” (from Training for the Land by Fr. John McQuillan, D.D.) Each “step” is worth it.