Psalm 145:4 “One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts …”
It’s been a typical late October day here in Yorkshire, England: sunshine mixed with grey cloud, a little damp underfoot, and people have already started hunkering down in their homes ready for winter. Most gardens are looking weather-weary, and the storms last week have blown away almost all of Autumn’s colour. But, inside the grand houses and small stone cottages which make up quaint English villages, stoves are stoked, kitchen tables are set for soup, blankets and rugs and resurrected from storage and we come ‘home’.
My next ‘big’ project will be overseeing the restoration of two stone cottages in a local Yorkshire village. The ‘Yorkshire Post’ ran an article about these when they came to the open market this summer for the first time in 200 years, dubbing them ‘time warp’ cottages. Thier previous owner, now ninety-one, was born there, and her father too. (The cottages were reportedly built by her grandfather.) So much history and sense of home lie within these stone walls and yet, the cottages have fallen into such a state of disrepair that this seems like a deliberately closed chapter, the end of an era. This elderly lady continued to live in these cottages long after their contents had given up the ghost, treading falteringly over bare flagstones in the dim light of gas lamps, with only damp and cold for her company.
Once upon a time, the ‘front room’ of one of the cottages (the one with the deeply worn flagstone under the door) was the village shop and post office. In the picture below, it’s just possible to see two cast iron hooks above the door which held the old ‘shop sign’.
And below is a photograph is of that old ‘front room shop’ as it is now.
This is a room where history gapes at bystanders with a forlorn stare. Butcher’s hooks decorate the ceiling like some new and terrifying art-form. As I linger, however, I become aware of the light from the large window and the wonderfully high ceiling. This room has dignity. A room which deserves to be lovingly restored into a homely space.
Below is a photograph of the kitchen area of this cottage.
I am simultaneously appalled by the fact that someone lived here until recently and charmed by the simplicity of the kitchen that once was. This is no setting for surround sound and fancy coffee maker. It’s a place to gather around a simple stove and rustic table with slow-cooked foods and relaxed conversation.
Outside, a flagged area separates the two cottages from a derelict, single-storey coal store and an equally dilapidated two-storey grain store. Steps then lead to a long garden, divided equally between the two cottages as two ‘allotments’ in tandem. At the end of this long garden, fields stretch into the distance as far as the eye can see.
The process of purchasing these cottages has been complicated. No official land registry plans were available.
The two adjoining cottages are lived in and loved, their gardens neatly separated by little fences. Originally, however, the outdoor space around village cottages would have been open. Boundaries would have existed more in the minds of individual owners than in ink and paper. The steps and narrow pathway leading to the outdoor lavatory at the end of the garden would have needed no legal clarification about maintenance responsibilities as it’s regular use would have taken care of all of that.
I wonder quietly about our shared lives. The common things that bind us to previous generations, and to our neighbours and friends.
I believe there is generosity in simplicity. The ability to take only what we need from our world, and to share what’s left. The cherishing of old and the celebration of new sits easily with simplicity.
The offer of a ‘simpler life’ is what these little cottages gift to their new owners. Of course, this will mean central heating, new bathrooms, windows and roof, fresh plaster and paint, at the very least. But these small homes breathe simplicity in their layout and fabric, a timeless sense of home and small ‘gatherings’ with friends.
Jesus invites us to lead simple lives, to find contentment, to enjoy our homes and our families. But He places in our hands another, much more important, baton to pass to the next generation: our faith.
Richard Dawkins, an atheist, has hit out angrily at this idea, claiming that children brought up in families of faith should be taught to ‘think for themselves’. But, as with much of his writings, Dawkins demonstrates a poor understanding of faith and biblical doctrine in particular. God does not call us to ‘brainwash’ our children; to forbid them to read widely and think intelligently about all subjects; to force them to attend church and to encourage them to make professions of faith long before they have the mental capacity or understanding to choose for themselves. But, we are asked to teach our children about God, to read the Bible with them, to pray with them, and to praise God in our words and our acts, for all, including our children and grandchildren, to see.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words that I give you today. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you’re at home or away, when you lie down or get up. Write them down, and tie them around your wrist, and wear them as headbands as a reminder. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Children learn about Jesus from Bible stories, not just the usual ones about Jonah, David and Daniel, but all the stories, then reading chapter after chapter of the Bible itself. The overarching ‘story’ of the Bible is one of redemption of mankind. It takes time, even for an inquisitive child, to understand this thread of this complicated plot, but this is the only ‘truth’ we need teach them. The ‘baton’ has then been passed.
When my children were babies, I sang lullabies to them about the love of Jesus. I prayed over them as toddlers asleep in my arms. As primary school children, we delved into bible stories every night together. I loved reading with my children and I hope they shared my love of my very favourite book. At around age seven or eight, we started to read the bible together, and we prayed before bedtime, simple prayers which drew our days naturally to a close and placed our concerns in the lap of a loving Heavenly Father.
Now that our children are young adults, we debate issues of faith as naturally as we talk about politics or the weather. We don’t always agree – about faith or politics. It’s harder now as a parent to continue our faith dialogue than it was when our children were very young. The authenticity of our faith is what matters to our children at this stage. We carry the torch into life’s trials, through disappointment, learning to forgive others and keeping Jesus at the centre of our lives.
Faith is the most precious gift we give to the next generation. How will you package yours?