Fathom Mag

Housekeeping among the Shadows of Eden

A review of Jen Pollock Michel’s Keeping Place

Published on:
May 10, 2017
Read time:
5 min.
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During our six years of marriage, my wife and I have lived in four separate homes and two different cities. We have packed and unpacked countless boxes such that if I never again have to smell the mingling scents of dust, cardboard, and sweat I will die a happy man.

Our last move came in the summer of 2013 when we purchased our first home together. It was a big step financially, but it was also a big commitment geographically, as apartment leases are easier to terminate than a mortgage. A few days before our move-in date, the previous owners notified us that they had finished vacating and turned over the keys to us.

We couldn’t wait to see the place. Despite having no furniture, we packed up a couple of sleeping bags and drove over to our new property with a cheap bottle of wine and Chipotle to celebrate. We spent our first night in the house sharing dinner on the hardwood floor discussing how we wanted to arrange each room. The walls were blank, but the space was full of promise.

We arrange and decorate our dwelling places as an expression of a deep longing within our hearts, namely, that of home.
Collin Huber

A few days later, we began to unpack our lives box-by-box and make the empty place our own. We hung paintings, framed pictures, and filled bookshelves like a painter coating a canvas. Soon, it began to feel like a home. What had been empty space only days before had become a place of life and held the hope of new memories.

Our story is not unique. Though every home differs, we make them our own. Tables, couches, television sets, bookshelves, and succulents tell a story about our inherent need for roots. We don’t leave rooms vacant. Rather, we furnish them as a way of communicating meaning and identity because “place” plays an important role in human life.

We arrange and decorate our dwelling places as an expression of a deep longing within our hearts, namely, that of home.

Keeping Place

That’s the message at the core of Jen Pollock Michel’s latest book Keeping Place, a topic she contends reaches beyond household walls, weaving its way throughout the biblical narrative from beginning to end.

Drawing on a wealth of story and scripture, Michel surveys the significance of home across a variety of disciplines in order to demonstrate how deeply it affects our lives on a daily basis, because, as she writes, “To be human, whether having moved or stayed, is to long for home.”

Over the course of the book, Michel traces the storyline of home from Genesis to Revelation, from God’s act of creating a home to humanity’s rebellion and the gracious promise of its Creator to remake all humans had splintered into disorder.

Home is not a uniquely woman’s topic, but one built into the fabric of men and women alike.
Collin Huber

She clothes her teachings in the vocabulary of home, referring to God as the “Homemaker” and our duties as his children as “housekeeping.” To faithfully long for home, then, is to bear witness to the true story of home—God’s welcome, our rebellion, and the hope of one day dwelling in the full presence of the Homemaker through faith in Jesus Christ.

Skewing Assumptions

Divided into two parts, the first portion of Keeping Place follows the story of home coursing through topics like literature, language, medicine, refugee crises, and technology to demonstrate how home has played a role in each of their histories. Michel includes a helpful warning for our need to recognize cultural assumptions about home and their ability to skew our conclusions, especially as they relate to our understanding of God’s biblical design.

For example, she briefly surveys the history of domesticity in American life to note how the home as a woman’s domain is a relatively new concept. Prior to industrialization, both husband and wife shared domestic duties.

Even more, a close reading of scripture frames household responsibilities as a crucial component for both men and women in leading lives of integrity. Interestingly, the New Testament lists domestic abilities, in addition to moral competence and leadership skills, as qualifications for men to the position of elder (1 Timothy 3:4–5).

In other words, home is not a uniquely woman’s topic, but one built into the fabric of men and women alike. God’s story of home meets every human being in ways they can comprehend for a life of faithful obedience to him.

Michel ties these threads together to illustrate that home is more than merely a physical shelter. While it is certainly a place, God intended it for the purpose of creating a people to dwell in his presence, which is why even the most stable of homes fails to satisfy in an ultimate sense. We are restless because our buildings crumble, our friends and family die, and we are separated by our sin from the God who made us for himself. Yet, through Christ, he has paved a way for us to journey from the wilderness of exile to that heavenly city that awaits our arrival.

The Incarnation As Housekeeping

In the meantime, there is work to do, which encompasses the second part of Keeping Place. Michel refers to this work as “housekeeping,” which at its core is an attempt at contributing to stability by entering into the world’s disorder as a reflection of the model of Jesus.

When viewed in this way, the daily practice of housework, like cleaning dishes or folding clothes, takes on a sermonic form and grounds us in our place as creatures serving the Creator. Far from menial, such tasks provide an opportunity for worship and display the story of God.

Michel grounds the work of housekeeping in the incarnation, which she describes as “the highest, holiest act of housekeeping.” Rather than abandon his creation, God drew near and entered into the world of disorder wrought by sin. He stepped into what was broken to create life in the midst of death. And by adopting us as members of his household God has drawn us into the service of helping the lost find their way home.

As conduits of home, Michel focuses on the church, the family, and the table as places for faithful housekeeping. Each in its own respect creates opportunities for us to root ourselves in community where we can serve those in our midst. Together, they provide a window into a life of holistic devotion to God. Our sanctuaries, homes, families, meals, and promises are places into which we can invite others to experience the Homemaker.

Throughout her discussion of housekeeping, Michel avoids giving the impression that the work will be easy. Rather, we labor within the boundaries of body and time, which force us to confess our limitations. As such, faithful housekeeping regularly practices rest—acknowledging God’s unending work—and always keeps an eye on eternity. It is rarely glamorous and never complete, but it “wrings good from what is” in anticipation of the home coming soon in Christ.

Chasing Shadows

No matter the topic, Michel never strays far from scripture. She anchors much of her work in the narrative of Abraham who left his homeland for the land of promise, one the authors of the New Testament describe as a shadow of the home to come. But adding to the robust theology throughout, Michel offers glimpses of her own story of loss and longing, causing the book to read with a poignancy and depth foreign to much of Christian writing today.

Keeping Place elegantly exposes the restlessness of humanity as a yearning for the home lost in Eden and promised through faith in Christ. Our desire for home is no fleeting jest, but a longing for a place with God. The author of Hebrews applauds those who consider themselves exiles because “they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16).

For now, we are strangers in a foreign land. We live among the ravages of death, aching for a home we have never truly known yet long for nonetheless. But God has heard our cries and provided rescue, not through perishable means, but by the imperishable blood of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Home is coming soon. Until then, we have housekeeping, both a duty and a delight that shows the world we desire a better, unfailing home—a heavenly one.

Collin Huber
Collin Huber is a senior editor at Fathom and a professional writer and content editor in Dallas, Texas. He earned his ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary and spent his undergraduate years studying Government at the University of Texas at Austin. You can find him on Twitter @JCollinHuber.

Cover image by Valentina Locatelli.

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