“For decades now, the entrenched wisdom has been that women’s unhappiness is largely due to the fact that home life demeans us and the remedy is for us to demean it in return,” explain Carrie Gress and Noelle Mering, co-authors of Theology of Home II: The Art of Spiritual Living.
At this moment, nothing could feel further from the truth to me. As I finish writing this essay in mid-December, I am reeling from the news that my mother passed away last night. She did many things in life, but what stands out to me in this staggering moment is how beautifully she gave of herself as a stay-at-home mom and how very many lives she enriched in this way. I am thankful that Theology of Home has given me language to express what most gave her life meaning and what she gave to others: namely, her fruitfulness as a woman who made a home for a family.
Gress and Mering’s Theology of Home project is a counteroffensive against the dominant feminism of our culture, which has so degraded home and homemaking. It includes a website, a daily newsletter, and several books. This latest book, the second volume of Theology of Home, addresses the question of what it means for women to live fruitfully rather than seeking power above all else.
This is no academic tome. Instead, the thoughtful reflections in Theology of Home II are short, and beautiful photography is abundant. Through the joy of its tone and visual beauty, this book offers an encounter with fruitful living that is anything but the usual portrayal of a dreary, dreadful, depressing return to a 1950s, black-and-white world. Gress and Mering take women—the primary audience for this book—along a pleasant, enriching pathway to discover that rejecting the errors of feminism and instead pursuing fruitful living is a beautiful option.
Power vs. Fruitfulness
Gress and Mering reposition power in women’s lives, asserting, “Women are powerful, but power is not our purpose—it is a mechanism, a means.”
They explain how for women, “In the 1960s, our culture traded in the notion of fruitfulness while offering us the promise of power and control.” Home and family went out the window. In came contraception, abortion, and the new image of career as the be-all and end-all of meaning in women’s lives. Our educational system and culture are now always on the lookout for ways to “reinforce the idea that the pursuit of power is the preeminent business of womanhood.” Nowadays, we take this for granted as if this notion were “innocuous.”
The book conveys well Gress and Mering’s sensitivity to the deep unhappiness women experience today. As second-wave feminism came to dominate our culture, the “underlying premise stated that power was something men had and women didn’t; to enact Justice, women needed to get it in equal drafts. . . . But this striving for power, rather than satisfying broken and hungry souls, wounded women all the more.”
Gress and Mering look for a deeper way to understand how women find meaning in life. They conclude, “Despite what the culture may tell us, all women—no matter our vocation—have been hardwired for a kind of fruitfulness. . . .” Through the vignettes about women in the book, they show that there is no simplistic cookie cutter for how this fruitfulness will play out.
While the focus of the book is rightly on motherhood and family, Gress and Mering understand that not every woman will become a mother with children. The photos include nuns. In the book’s vignettes, the authors are realistic. They make a point of including the story of one unmarried woman learning to live fruitfully (full disclosure: that’s me, though I have no financial interest in this book). In addition, they include the Catholic author Ida Friederike Görres, (1901–1971), whose marriage, while open to new life, was marked by the pain of infertility. In spite of this cross, Görres led a tremendously fruitful life as a wife, in lay ministry, and as an insightful author of saints’ lives and commentary on faith.
Does this mean that career should be embraced as an alternative to motherhood, just a different way of living “fruitfully”? No. This is something vitally important, which this book explains well. A career is like power: it “is not our purpose.” At most, “it is a mechanism, a means.”
One reason there is a need for the Theology of Home project is that, “There continues to be a disconnect between loving our homes and recognizing the important and real value of a homemaker.” What Gress and Mering share with the readers of their books, blog, and newsletter is that the real value of a homemaker is not in the physical home. Rather, it is in the purpose of home.
The significance of home is not as a venue to compete Martha Stewart–style with others to create something to show off. This commercial narrative of our culture just makes the idea of home intimidating. Instead, as one reads on the homepage of the Theology of Home website, “home is where we prepare our families for Heaven.” What could be of greater value than that?
Theology of Home II, they explain, “is an invitation to reconnect the dots between home and homemaking . . . as the deeply purposeful art of sheltering and nurturing the souls of others, offering them a place to grow into the people God intends them to be.” Homemaking is presented not as an unfortunate but necessary burden for home life, but as an opportunity. Imagine that: homemaking offering a positive opportunity! Now that is counter-cultural. “Homemaking,” they write, “offers an opportunity that is difficult to acquire outside of a home. . . . That something is the capacity to be fruitful.”
The quest for power is about building up the self. By contrast, “fundamentally, fruitfulness,” write Gress and Mering, is about “relationships—about sheltering, birthing, midwifing, cultivating, nourishing, and being receptive to the needs, gifts, and potential of others.” This is why home matters. Fruitful living offers a way to build relationships in ways that enable our own souls to mature. A homemaker, the authors say, “is getting a doctorate in love.” They reject “a misguided understanding that the sacrificial demands of love are a threat rather than a magnification of that love.”
Living as a Gift to Others
I recommend Theology of Home II as a gift for wives, daughters, sisters, and other women in your life. I also recommend it for those who provide spiritual guidance to women and for men trying to make sense of womanhood. This book is not only for women who are homemakers.
For single women, especially those in their twenties and thirties, the stories in the book about women’s lives offer a way for them to access the wisdom from women across the generations—wisdom single women need to hear, that they are most certainly not going to hear from our work-obsessed, achievement-driven culture.
Perhaps you hesitate. After all, suggesting anything other than career to women today is culturally taboo. Be bold. Have the courage to buy a copy of this book for a single woman.
Gress and Mering have had the courage to do the unthinkable: to say “No” to feminism. In Theology of Home II, they have done so with wisdom and grace.