Every House Is a Nest
A book I keep returning to again and again is Earth Works by Scott Russell Sanders, a professor emeritus of English at Indiana University (my alma mater!). The book is a collection of essays on a wide variety of topics. In one chapter, entitled “House and Home,” Sanders states that every house is really a nest in disguise.
How do birds build their nests? They gather all sorts of things from nature: sticks, grasses, leaves, seeds. They make cement from mud or even spider webs to hold their nest together. Sometimes they fashion their nest inside a hole in a tree. You might be thinking, but our houses are made of some things not really drawn from nature. But is that true? Sanders argues that our houses are “still entirely derived from the land.” He says, “Unlike the birds, of course, we get our sticks from the lumberyard, we get our mud ready-made into bricks, we buy fibers that have been woven into blankets, curtains, carpets, mats.” The nails we use are refined from ore, the glass is made from sand, and even “the unavoidable plastic has been distilled from the oil of ancient swamps.”
But most of us don’t build our own houses, so we forget that our homes (like our bodies) are made of the earth. The first humans who settled in our country were much more aware of their oneness with the earth. They fashioned their huts and canoes from bark. They made their tepees from tanned animal hides. They kept themselves warm at fires of buffalo chips and brush. Even our early pioneers built their dwellings from logs stacked on top of each other. They constructed fireplaces and chimneys from stones they mined from their fields. Says Sanders, “Our technology has changed, but not our ultimate source. Even the newest ticky-tacky box in the suburbs, even the glitziest high-tech mansion, even an aluminum trailer is only a nest in disguise.”
But nature doesn’t stop with the construction of our houses. Nature “runs right through our yards and walls and bones.” Moss grows on our roof, mildew in our showers, mold in the refrigerator. Tiny maples sprout in our gutters, mice invade our kitchen pantry, spiders make their living in our attic, and water often seeps into our basement. Our dwellings demand constant maintenance or else they will die, that is, they will be reclaimed by nature. Says, Sanders, “Our shelter is on loan; it needs perpetual care.”
As Pope Francis keeps reminding us, our entire planet needs our care. If we want to grow in our reverence for earth, then we must be re-awakened to our intimate connection to the natural world. One way to do that is to appreciate our house and the things we use every day. Here’s a little exercise you might want to try. Go through your dwelling place (or even one room of it) and notice all the parts of it that are “on loan” from creation. Some things will be obvious: wooden doors and floors, glass windows, granite counter tops, metal appliances, bricks or stone, carpets, wooden furniture. Doing this will help you to be more aware of how you are being sheltered by “Mother Earth” every day. Then include the many other things you see or use regularly: dishes, utensils, tools, wall hangings, linens, etc.
For example, as I sit in my office and type this, I notice all the plastic that is surrounding me: my computer, pens, desk phone, a picture frame, highlighters. Then I see the marble window sill… books and paper everywhere… the wooden pencils with their graphite centers (graphite is a naturally-occurring crystalline form of carbon—I looked it up)… storage boxes… my clay mug… I also realize I don’t know what some stuff is made of—for example, all the electrical cords, the chair I’m sitting on, the clothes I’m wearing, my shoes, the mirror, the lamp shades.
Today, let us thank God for our “dwelling place”—not only our individual homes, but also our beautiful planet. We can use these words:
Beloved God, thank you for my house, my dwelling place. I am so lucky to have a place to call home… Help me to reverence my abode and never take it for granted… Give me eyes to see how this house connects me to our earthly home. On this day, make me mindful of those who have no home—those sleeping on our streets… those being evicted… those reeling from natural disasters… those fleeing war and persecution. May the appreciation I have for my own home cause me to ache for them and to help seek remedies for their dire situation. The psalmist says, “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” In a way, I am already dwelling in such a house: this beautiful blue planet whirling in space among the other planets and stars. Thank you, my beloved Creator God, for such a gift, such a dwelling place. And remind me everyday that my ultimate shelter and dwelling place is you. Amen.
PS #1: A big thank you to all the people who came to my talk on hope for the First Friday Forum of Lorain County. What a responsive group you were. Thanks especially to Larry and Jack for inviting me. Thanks to Sister Sean for her special gift. It was wonderful meeting so many “old” friends again too!
PS #2: A Happy Labor Day to all of you!!!
I’m offering two short videos today. The first one shows a hummingbird building her nest all by herself. The second one shows a human being building a house all by himself.
Hummingbird video (2 1/2 mins.):
Video of one man, Shawn James, building a log cabin off the grid somewhere in the Ontario, Canadian forest. Notice he uses ordinary saws, hammers, chisels, and drills. He starts in June 2017 and finishes several months later. (5 mins.)
I think I gave you enough things to reflect on today. I hope you will share some of your thoughts, observations, and reactions below!
I enjoyed these videos immensely and hope there will be more in the future..we all need to stop the pace that we live at and reflect on the simple acts in life.
Thank you for reminding me how much God has blessed me with so many little things that I often take for granted. I am also reminded of those without a nest to call home. “There but for the grace of God go I”…..may I seek opportunities to help those who are struggling to find, build, or maintain a humble abode.
Thank you Melanie for helping me realize how rich I am in the small stuff God bless you for your beautiful writings
Good morning, Sr. Melannie…
Good morning, all…
Happy Labor Day! And — Oh! — that I had one-tenth the skill of that fellow in Canada who labored to build that magnificent cabin or the amazing hummingbird! In one of the psalms, the psalmist likens a bird’s nest to “an altar of God.” Today’s blog, Sr. Melannie, really makes that clear — not just for the bird’s nest but for our homes, as well. Where we dwell is an altar of God. Your prayer was beautiful, by the way. Thank you!
PS: blessings to all those teachers out there!
Happy Labor Day, Sr. Melanie and all!
It’s a beautiful morning in my small piece of this beautiful planet. We loved the videos. (In fact, my husband is now watching all the YouTube videos connected to the one you posted on the gentleman building his cabin.)
My Dad remodeled our first old house in Castleton, IN and then built our next two from scratch. My husband built one of our homes into the side of a hill in Central Indiana. Our second story was in the tree tops and I could open my sliding glass door and step out onto a balcony and into the the embracing arms of a tree.
We loved the prayer and I think we will purchase a copy of “Earth Works”. My heart aches for all those without a “nest”.
Thank you for both the beautiful videos. Makes me stop and Thank God even more for our many blessings! Have a blessed week!
Good morning Sr. Meiannie and all,
While both videos were filled with energy, they both were very peaceful. A lovely way to reflect on and appreciate Labor day.
I do appreciate what I have been given and thank God frequently for all I have and all I am. Living in southwest Michigan, about 15 miles from the shores of lake Michigan, we are blessed with so much of the beauty of nature…..lots of trees and water.
I am often reminded of the time we travelled to Mt. Rushmore in south Dakota which is sorely lacking in trees. While purchasing something at Wall Drug, the young girl helping us asked if there were trees where we lived. I could barely imagine anyone asking that question because we were so used to the abundance of trees in our environment, but this young gal was asking question after question about our trees and what they were like…she simply couldn’t imagine having such lush greenery surrounding our living accommodations. It certainly has made me appreciate the nature that is visible around us.
I pray for all those living in areas of desert and desolation, that they may find the touch of God in other ways that they may cling to.
Dear Melannie, watching that tiny humming bird build her nest and then give birth brought tears to my eyes. It was, in one sense a beautiful summary of all you wroth in the reflection. Nature has such a profound way of speaking, if we only take time to listen with the eyes and ears of our heart. Thank you.
Sister Melannie, thank you for your thoughtful reflection and the interesting videos in this week’s edition of Sunflower Seeds. Happy Labor Day to you, too.
WhiIe I admired the skill of the human builder, I was intrigued that the hummingbird didn’t need a set of plans or a tape measure to built its sturdy and artistic nest.
I loved the simplicity of the cabin–how can I lead my family toward ‘more’ simplicity. Or really less of more! The animals in nature always astound me and I thank you so much for finding these videos and calling our attention to God’s beauty every Monday. I am so glad that I found your blog and so thankful for you and your gifts!
Sister Melannie, thanks for sharing the video reflections were great. Just think something as small as a hummingbird has the knowledge to build the perfect nest for her little ones and the man building the wooden cabin wow (I have some questions for him, why he did certain things). This is from your Benedictine Oblate friend.
Thank you for the spiritual refreshment this reflection is full of. What life artists birds are.
I was fascinated by that little hummingbird! Amazing. I never knew they used spiderweb material to hold it together.
The log cabin builder made me wonder how many logs it takes to build a log cabin. Here’s the answer I found: A log cabin that is 24 x 20ft and 9ft high will require 67 logs if the logs are all 10 inches in diameter. There also needs to be a 4 ft. allowance for overhangs. That is a lot of very tall trees! I don’t know how that compares with regular housing, but I’d rather have the trees in the ground and alive.
Sister Melanie. Thank you for sharing the entire blog-all the God given materials in our home never have I given that a thought. Thank you Lord. The videos were amazing. I truly loved watching the beautiful little hummingbird make its home. Fascinating to watch. And such a beautiful little structure. Watching the man build his log cabin was interesting. We have a log home. The program Nature is a wonderful program. We watch it at our home. So much to learn. Thank you again. I enjoy your blog very much.