Guests in our home inevitably encounter my husband's library of books about tiny houses, so it was natural for this to become a topic of conversation when we recently hosted Easter dinner. The table cleared, we pored over books, animatedly pointing out our favorite succinct and simple structures.
It's a curious phenomenon, the interest in tiny houses, as described in the Monitor's "Incredible shrinking houses" (April 20). Even Oprah Winfrey recently devoted an hour to the topic of living small.
One wonders, is this "boomlet" a reaction to the recent McMansion construction trend or, more generally, to the excesses of modern consumerism?
I recall a respondent desire for temperate and modest living on the heels of a visit to Versailles. An afternoon at the Palace of the Sun King was, for me, opulence that went way beyond bordering on excess.
However, much as it appears to be about smallness, could the growing interest in shrinking houses be about sharpening our focus? About zooming in on what matters most?
Our Easter guests talked about what didn't matter most to them – the unnecessary "stuff" accumulating in their basements, attics, and garages. Then they talked about their imagined sense of buoyancy at shedding those things and living a leaner lifestyle. There was an inarticulate impulse – even yearning – in all this.
Here is what I think this may really be all about.
The structures we live in do offer some clues as to who or what we are, whether it be a yurt in the Tibetan Himalayas or a loft in Tribeca. At its most fundamental, then, could this be an ages-old story? Even a holy one of yearning to bring into sharp focus who we are, what man – including both male and female – really is? I think that's quite possible.
Millenniums ago, the Apostle Paul (likely sheltered most nights by a nomadic sail of cloth, if not the stars) similarly and earnestly groaned: "If our earthly dwelling were taken down, like a tent, we have a permanent house in Heaven, made, not by man, but by God … we sigh with deep longing for our heavenly house" (J.B. Phillips, II Cor. 5:1, 2).
Paul's vision is anything but tiny, small, or shrinking. In fact, it hints at infinite dimension. But it wasn't until 19 centuries later that Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper, described that infinite dimension in words that depicted her ideal house.
In her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," this fresh spiritual thinker interpreted the last line of the beloved 23rd Psalm: "I will dwell in the house [the consciousness] of [Love] for ever" (p. 578).
For me, this one spare poetic line answers this question of who or what we are.
First it tells me where man is – in the consciousness of Love, or what I understand to be infinite Mind, all good God. To this, then, I apply humble Christian logic: If infinite Mind is where we are, then we must be what Mind includes or houses – ideas. And since this Mind is all, all there must be for Mind to know is itself, infinite good. So, the nature of the ideas in Mind must be profoundly and unutterably serene. Here the Psalmist adds that we are "forever" so.
Therefore, no date in mortal history, however black, can end the existence or alter the condition of any of the ideas within the sanctity of infinite Mind, our permanent home.
For in him
and have our being.