Christie Purifoy writes beautifully and graciously about home, dreams come true, and the challenges that occur when that happens in her book Roots & Sky: a Journey Home in Four Seasons.
I caught up with her to talk about the book, and go a little deeper into her love for the seasons, living life liturgically, longing, and more. You can listen, or read along.
Cara Strickland: Hi Christie, how are you today?
Christie Purifoy: Good morning, Cara. I’m looking forward to talking about Roots & Sky with you.
CS: Me too, let’s go ahead and dive in, why don’t you tell me a little bit about your book?
CP: Well, this book is a book about a house, it’s a book about a place, and it’s a book about our first year in this old Pennsylvania farmhouse, so the first four seasons there. It’s part memoir, so it tells the story of our daily lives in those seasons, but it’s also a great deal of just reflection and contemplation on spiritual themes, and the seasons, and what it means to come home, what it means to really abide in a place.
CS: Why don’t you tell me a little about your connection to the seasons, both natural seasons and those of the church year?
CP: Well, I grew up without seasons, so in a way I think that’s where it begins. It begins in the not having seasons. I grew up in Texas and seasons were what I found in books. It was the construction paper leaves that we cut out and colored every autumn to tape on our classroom windows. Seasons were something that belonged to books and stories, films, things like that but not something that I really experienced. And then when I was about 20, I left Texas and I moved to Virginia, so I experienced four distinct, beautiful seasons for the first time and it was glorious. I had a few years of my life where seasons became a natural thing, and that rhythm really worked its way into my daily life. And then I moved south again, I spent a few years living in Florida, and once again I didn’t have seasons. So seasons for me have been this not having, having, losing, and through that, realizing I don’t want to live without them. So that was my experience with the natural seasons. But throughout those years as well, I was beginning to learn more about seasonal rhythms in the spiritual life and how seasons have been a part of Christian faith traditionally over the centuries and slowly these things became woven together and I felt that living with seasons in the natural world but also living with spiritual seasons and paying attention to spiritual seasons was no longer optional or some extra thing for me but over time really became as necessary as food and air, I think.
CS: So tell me a little bit about the liturgical seasons
CP: You know I think they’re like the music of the year. They’re the rhythm, they remind us that every day isn’t the same. Time isn’t just this endless sameness. The way we live today in our world, we can forget that and we can feel as if that’s true, as if Sunday is just like Tuesday and December is just like July, and so the liturgical seasons remind us that some times are set apart, some times are special, some times are sacred, some times are ordinary or more repetitive and simply counted.
But also the liturgical seasons tell a story, so as a writer and as a storyteller and as someone who loves to read and loves stories, living with a sense and an observance of the liturgical seasons is like paying attention to the story of God in the world.
And lastly, I’m a mom, I have four young kids, and I’m, I think like a lot of religious or spiritual parents, trying to figure out ‘how do I hand my faith experience down to my children?’ Not how do I force feed it, but how do I share with them why I believe what I do and how it impacts my life? And so paying attention to the liturgical seasons, and celebrating them, and observing them with my kids is a way to tell the story to them, like a bedtime story or something, but in a way that they can absorb, they can experience, and it doesn’t have to be always a kind of teachy or preachy thing, although there are moments for that, but it can be just a more natural part of our lives. I think a lot of parents will say that, oh my goodness, you do something twice with a child in the home and they take it on as a tradition and they will remind you ‘but we always do this’ and I think, ‘Really? we did it twice.’ I don’t know what it is about kids, but they respond to daily rhythms, weekly, monthly, seasonal rhythms and so if we are seeking to educate or influence our children in spiritual things, then tapping into that natural affinity for seasonal rhythms is, I think, I just wouldn’t want to do it without that because it’s such a help.
CS: So this book is about finding and making a home. Can you tell me what the word home means to you?
CP: I think home is shelter and home is a protected space. But I don’t mean that in the sense that it’s my castle, you know that old proverb, a home is a man’s castle, or whatever, and what I mean by that is that I don’t have a moat, I don’t put up high walls, and that’s one thing I talk a lot about in Roots & Sky, is that home for me is a place where the door is open, the gates are thrown open and other people are invited in. So home is shelter, but it’s a shelter that I extend to others through hospitality.
And home is where I practice what I really see as my calling, that’s a big word for it, but you know, my purpose or biggest joy in life, which is place-making. Homemaking is a word maybe we’re more familiar with, so I think it incorporates homemaking, but homemaking is gendered and slightly more limited than the thing I’m talking about. But I really feel that everything I do in my life, which includes my writing, my mothering, my gardening, all of it, is about place-making, so cultivating, creating and caring for this place, making it more beautiful, and then inviting others into that, sharing it with others and hopefully inspiring others to make places of their own that they will share. So home is, it’s so much more than these red bricks, it’s all of these things, but I think most importantly it’s for me and my family, but it’s for so many more people, so hospitality I think, I can’t distinguish home from hospitality.
CS: Your family is really important to your story. Can you tell me a little bit about how they fit into the book and what they teach you about faith?
CP: I think it’s in my dedication to Roots & Sky that I mention my children and I say thank you to them because this place, this house, would be only a house without them. I don’t extend that to other people. I don’t say that those who don’t have young children in their home or don’t have children, don’t actually have a home. I think we make a home in so many different ways. But for me personally, children in this house and what they introduce, which is not easy, they bring noise, they bring chaos, they bring mess, they break things. The book opens with this memory of one of the first things that my boys did in this house. They slid down the bannister, but they did it with their belts on their blue jeans, and those buckles scratched a deep deep scar down the length of the bannister, so when I talk about how important kids are to the place-making here and to our life here, I don’t mean to paint some rosy picture, because it’s really hard at times. And yet it’s such an important part of being in this place, and it’s the hard things that I think help me to see deeper, to see beyond just the pretty surfaces.
You know if I didn’t have kids, this place could be always neat and it could be clean and it could be looking good most of the time. It would be so easy to invite people into my home because it would always be ready to look it’s best. and because I have these four young kids and I have neighbor kids running through the house, frankly it’s always, not just a bit of a mess, it’s always a mess. But I think that’s an important part of it, learning to create beauty and cultivate peace, not by walling ourselves off from the mess and the chaos and the things that we can’t control but with those things: Can we create beauty? Can we be at peace? Can we find rest and can we share it with others even when life is messy, even when our daughter scribbles all over every wall and piece of furniture? I mean, can we still do it, right, under those circumstances? So that’s one thing that kids mean to me.
But I think more than that, or just even beyond that, some of the backstory is that I always wanted to have children, I came from a larger family, I’m the oldest of four, and so I just grew up with this idea that family was noisy, and family was loud, and family was a lot of people. So that’s what family had always felt like to me and so I wanted something similar. But then over the years, I had a really hard time getting pregnant, so I had a hard time adding to my family, it was never something I could control. And what that did is, I think, cultivate a deep dependence on God’s provision. It grew my desire for children. I mean, one thing, when they don’t come easily, then you spend a lot of time wanting them, dreaming of them, longing for them, and so the experience of all of that longing and then seeing that longing fulfilled has really mirrored the experience of coming home, you know the longing for the seasons, the longing for home and then the fulfillment of that. I feel like that’s a pattern that has been repeated for me again and again.
CS: Your faith seems to have changed quite a bit since you were younger, and you talk about that a little bit in the book. What was that transition like and what might you say to those going through their own faith transitions?
CP: It’s true that I don’t experience my faith today the way I did as a child and one thing I want to say about that is: that is good, right, and normal.
Growing up into any faith is a painful process and that just has to be true for everyone. Now some will experience that pain in different ways, it will look differently for each of us, but it’s true for everyone. So even though I was raised in a believing, faithful, God-honoring household, the faith that I was taught, the faith I observed in those around me, couldn’t become mine without some trouble and without seasons of doubt and deep questions and sadness and the rest of it.
So first of all, I think my story is not unique in that way and so I just want to encourage people who are just in the midst of working things out. Keep pressing on because this is good and necessary work. I think in so many ways my faith is the same in the sense that I feel like I’m living out or experiencing so much of what I was taught that was good and right, but part of making it my own has been the realization that the emphasis I understood on the spiritual life as a child is that spiritual things were not material things, that there was this divide between the spiritual life and the material life. And what I have experienced is that the truth is that Jesus came and lived among us and was embodied in flesh and ate fish and bread and shared wine with his friends and that truth still matters today. So where do I experience God today? It’s in the dirt and it’s in the kitchen and it’s in the garden and it’s side by side with other people, and more disembodied concepts of Heaven and things like that, they’re still a part of this faith, but I just have a different experience of them and a different language for them and Heaven is no longer this far off thing, but this growing present reality, Heaven here on earth, Thy kingdom come. So those are hugely important to the story that I tell in Roots & Sky, that sense of Heaven here and now.