Thinking about affection tends to evoke positive feelings for someone or something. But I would like to suggest that affection is more than a feeling. When I first came to SH, it felt cold, stark, and inhospitable. This is home to nineteen men and women whose lives have been rent and ripped apart by circumstances early on which were neither in their control nor their choice. They know more than the fear of abandonment; they know the state of abandonment, desertion, or neglect.
Years ago, someone visiting me commented that my house had no affection. At the time, I did not understand my friend’s remark. Subsequently, I learned the meaning of her comment and the value of living in and with affection. I fondly recall Alexandra Stoddard reflecting that “efficiency and convenience alone don’t bring joy; beauty is the mysterious element.” I speak not of material or lavish beauty but of God’s beauty that soothes our busy and anxious hearts. It is the beauty of color, texture, encompassing the senses of sight, touch, smell, taste and sound. This insatiable desire for God’s beauty stokes the fire of our Christian life. We ask for the same thing every day: “to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4). And we testify together: “all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary” (Psalm 96:5–6). We must have God’s beauty; this beauty matures into abiding affection.
The beauty of God’s tender mercy calms me down, lets me breathe again, and slows my heart’s frantic scurrying about. In all my anxiety, God is undeterred and gentle with me. It is this same tender care of my surroundings that leads to a greater sense of wonder and solace, freeing me merely “to be.” God’s beauty fuels my sense of call to ordained ministry; without it, I wither.
Now, how might one go about beginning to create an affectionate environment at SH so that its residents can feel they live with affection in a cherished and loving home? The bleak SH, perhaps is a form of chaos, but the Spirit hovers near prepared to create. It could come in the shape of a simple white rose, snipped fresh from the garden when the dew is still on the petals, placed in a plain bud vase on the front desk. Possibly, it is the computer sitting in the middle of desk moved to the side so that a smile greets visitors instead of the back side of a computer screen. Or what about scrubbing the baking pans that have a well-aged grease patina on them from cooking many meals for twenty people, so they sparkle and shine with new life. Imaginably, it could be the hanging of colorful posters on the walls in the dining area so that people have something to look at while they eat their food at the counters facing the wall.
Collectively and individually these actions of tender care, love and concern are outward signs of an abiding inward grace and affection. It is important for us to care for our surroundings as we “love one another with mutual affection; outdo[ing] one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10). Engaging our affectionate behavior in our surroundings and among our brothers and sisters constitutes God’s affection in full motion, headed for a new dimension of well-being and a heighten sense of wholesomeness.
Stoddard, Alexandra. Creating a Beautiful Home. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc, 1992, p. 45.