The root for the Greek word “teleo,” meaning “perfect,” is “complete,” “finished.” In other words, for something to be truly perfect, it must be finished, in all its details. If not, it is imperfect.
For the past three months and more, I have been living in a constant state of “unfinishedness.” The Depression-era two-story house I own has been under construction. We have had to demolish and completely build up from the bare skeleton. This house apparently was built in 1925 by the WPA in an effort to provide housing for the many widows left destitute, without a means of support, after the Great War. The entire block of houses, constructed side by side in the same plan and design, was known as “Widow’s Row.” Instead of having to pay out widow’s support for the rest of her life, the government came up with the scheme to build two-story constructions so that the widow could reside on the first level and rent out the second to boarders, which would provide her a means of financial support. The house does indeed have a depression-like feel to it. Our plan was to revamp it, upgrade the electrical and the insulation, and gut the floors in an effort to change the “energy” in the house.
This task, alas, has been daunting. For the past three months, we have been cramped in the basement, six people and a huge 130-pound Labrador in three rooms. We have been living in constant dust, debris, and noise. There is chaos all around. Finding a hair brush is a major endeavor in the morning. There is no way to get a good night sleep, what with the dog snoring and the baby tucked between us kicking us in the chin and the shins. Everyone is on short fuse, cranky, tired, waiting for the fourth person to come out of the minuscule shower to get through the morning grooming routine. It’s been hell. To top it all off, I developed a hacking cough that developed into bronchitis that developed into pneumonia that developed into chronic asthma from all the allergens that were kicked up due to the demolition. I lost a week of work and am on a cocktail mix of nebulizer treatments, antibiotics, hand pumps, and oxygen masks. I look like a Storm Trooper and sound like Darth Vader on most days. I have since been sequestered to a corner room by myself as my hacking incessant cough keeps everyone else awake at night.
We had braced for the stress; but we had not expected that things would take so long to complete. The bathroom itself, a grand embroidery of golden onyx tiles in diamond-patterns, took eight weeks by itself. (It did not help that the tiler was an off-the-boat Greek who worked on Greek time–comes in at 11, smokes 20 cigarettes and drinks 4 frappes per day, tiles a little, takes a break a little, tiles a little, one by one; it did not help that he had a perfectionist streak either.) The only thing that kept us through the whole ordeal was the expectation that it would be finished and the house would be glorious.
But to finish, to bring things to completion, I have found requires supernatural aid. No matter how many times I dust, the dust returns. No matter how many times I clean up after the litter of strewn clothes, stray boots; no matter how many loads of laundry (I’ve taken up 7 machines all in a row at the local laundromat), there is no end. I have begun to think that there is a demon of disorder that, despite all my best efforts to keep order, wreaks havoc in the house. The minute a room is “done” in terms of cleaning and organization, voila, something left undone (such as installing the decorative moulding on top of the kitchen cabinets, installing the plumbing behind the vanity, putting in the new door bells) creates the saw dust, the plaster globs on the tiles, the paint splotches that need to be removed. It has been this way for a good two weeks. There can be no real completion of things. The devil is in the details I am convinced. And it is those details that start an un-stitching, much like a stray thread across the hem of a garment that unravels the whole. There have been times where I have been brought to tears, have absolutely lost my peace of mind living amidst such disorder. It is not good for the soul to live like this.
So many times I was brought to empathy for those refugees all over the world, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, who lost their homes and had to exist in makeshift tents, their lives in total disarray. Living in a dark dank basement, six to a room, made me think about all those poverty-stricken people in the Third World or even immigrants in the First World who call these conditions “home.” We take so much for granted, even something as simple as a clean bed with a comfortable mattress and a pillow.
As the housewife and “nikokira” of the home, it is my responsibility to make things find a place. On days like today, I am completely overwhelmed by the task. I feel like a Sisyphus dressed in a mumu and a head scarf, holding a vacuum cleaner in one hand and a dust cloth in another, trailing a bucket of soapy water behind me. Nothing will ever “teleosi”; nothing will be brought to completion. And all the energy I expend will be lost to yet another day of household drudgery. In my desperation, I have called out to the Lord, the only one capable of bringing “telea” or completion to the world, for help. What seems like a simple task against dirt has become an entire spiritual battle. Am I just fighting off bacteria, or am I engaging in war with the armies of chaos?
The quest to put order in an otherwise disordered and random universe reminds me so much of the Creation story. Of how the Lord, in His Power and His Humility, made room for another world, a world that would fit us. His act of creation was indeed an act of humility. How much energy must be expended to bring light out of darkness? To bring order and symmetry out of chaos? We take it for granted. It takes supernatural strength. The futility of my endeavor also humbles me. I will never with my own energy bring “perfection,” “completion” to this house. It takes the Lord’s strength to do that. I remember back in physics class the second law of thermodynamics stating, “In a closed system, things tend to go from order to disorder.” Left to its own devices, the world would just fall apart, disintegrate, become a bigger and bigger mass of chaos — had it not been for God’s hands, for God’s will to take it out of its mess and make it hospitable for life. It is a monumental task to do the same in a house. It takes the hand of God to bring harmony, peace, and order to a house.
Lest we forget, a home is like a church. It must be cleansed, it must be blessed, it must be prayed about. The influences of the outside world have a way of making their way through the walls in ways we cannot see but that often make their imprint. It’s not surprising that certain houses give off a feeling or a spirit of their own. A house does indeed carry its own spirits. This is why all those who engage in the daily drudgery of housework must ask the Creator for help in their struggle against dirt, filth, disorganization.
This is why I pray the Prayer of the Housewife:
Lord, as You have brought light out of the darkness,
In your munificence extracted symmetry out of chaos,
And brought order out of randomness,
Bless me with Your Grace as I too try to mimic Your great act.
Help me to restore order to disorderliness,
To bring calmness to disarray,
To cleanse the filth and sludge of sinful device that works its magic even in the darkest corners.
Give me strength to cleanse this home of all evil and darkness in Your Holy Name,
to make it a dwelling place for Your Holy Spirit,
And that all who enter here might feel Your Presence.
Lord, bless the work of our hands.
Lord, bless this our home.
Photo courtesy of Eric Mueller.
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