Leila M. Lawler is a wife of one, mother of seven, and grandmother of four (and counting), living in central Massachusetts. She is a convert to Catholicism from nothing-ism with a brief, completely uninformed and unconvincing stop as a Moslem (now called Muslim but not when she made that stop, which was sometime in middle school). Leila practices “kitchen-sink philosophy” at “Like Mother, Like Daughter”, a website offering practical and theoretical insight into all aspects of daily life.
David Clayton is an internationally acclaimed Catholic artist, teacher, and published writer on sacred art, liturgy, and culture. He is known for his own popular blog, TheWayOfBeauty.org, and has been the writer on sacred art for the New Liturgical Movement website for five years. He is currently Visiting Fellow at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire, where he has taught since 2009, and is the founder of the Way of Beauty program, which has been taught for college credit, featured on television, and is now presented in this book. His work as an artist has been featured in national press in the UK and US, and his commissions include St. Luigi Scrosoppi for the London Oratory.
Recently Michele had the opportunity to interview both Leila and David about their book The Little Oratory: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home.
MICHELE: I thoroughly enjoyed your book, The Little Oratory: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home, because I tend to be a hermit – enjoying and needing to have more solitude than possibly the average person and the desire to make my home peaceful, beautiful, prayerful and “shrine-like” as you describe (of course my children are grown and out of the house). But, I have always had the sense of the need to be surrounded by beauty and simplicity and order, as you describe in your book. Would you care to describe your home oratory or any specific areas of your home that are particularly beautiful/sacred/prayerful spaces?
LEILA M. LAWLER: Thanks! I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed the book!
We are probably temperamentally very different, from your description of yourself — I tend to want to get out and meet people and get a little antsy if there isn’t activity around me. But I too have learned to love a peaceful, orderly house, although I try to remind my young readers that this is a relative concept, and the liveliness (not to say chaos) of a house full of children will not necessarily seem “shrine-like”! Yet it can be, in truth.
We give a lot of encouragement in the book to start, very simply, with the “little oratory” or prayer corner in the home and let the peace radiate outwards from that. We give specific directions and help for that outcome.
In my own home, I have a little oratory over the dining room mantelpiece. But each room has its own little image or statue (with a candle, of course), or crucifix on the wall. The eye needs that reminder of what’s important. We say the Rosary in the den, usually, so I have my statue of Our Lady there. In the living room, I have a triptych on the mantel as well as a lovely reproduction of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe (a second-class relic, having been touched to the original!), flanked by sconces, the candles of which we light on some feast days when we are in there together.
On the blog, I have posted about these little places and anyone can go take a look. We also have a dedicated page for what we call “Your Little Oratory” — and people have posted photos of how they have made a prayer table, icon corner, or home altar. It’s very inspiring!
DAVID CLAYTON: I have a chair in my office at home in which I can see the 3 basic images of the icon corner (Mary on the left, suffering Christ in the center, glorified Christ on the right) set up on the desk. Also, I have painted patron saints for members of my family and myself and I can see them. I can go here at any time of the day, pretty much, and have peace and even sing the psalms.
MICHELE: I like the section describing how to have an oratory at work… in an office – any ideas or thoughts about an outdoor or garden oratory?
LEILA M. LAWLER: I would love to have a statue outdoors, and have just never gotten there, as I’m always at the “battling weeds” stage of things. I should take my own advice and start with the prayer garden!
DAVID CLAYTON: With the Liturgy of the Hours, provided I can find a peaceful and confortable spot then I enjoy praying the office – although I would want to be somewhere where people who didn’t want to didn’t have to hear me singing the psalms. You might be able to set up images – although unless you have the resources to do so in a way that protects them from the weather it is unlikely to be a permanent thing. In this case you can use your Pocket Oratory– which is a portable version of the domestic church. Also, try to arrange it, if you can, that you are facing east. Then, in the morning particularly, the sun itself is a reminder of the resurrection and that Christ will come again. If you have a garden that is cultivated for beauty (and not just vegetables) then this can be particularly good.
MICHELE: Of all the many wonderful ideas mentioned for keeping prayer/relationship with God in the forefront of your day, would you be willing to give a glimpse of what specific practices carry each of you throughout your day in an effort to “pray without ceasing”?
LEILA M. LAWLER: I would say that the main message of our book is that the prayer table/little oratory is a visual organizing principle that helps us live a liturgical life. The liturgy, radiating outward from the Mass, through the Hours, the week, and the whole of the Liturgical Year, is the Church’s plan, given by God, for keeping us close to Christ and to living in His Kingdom, with Him.
We do not have to stress out about this. We just dwell with Him, and it’s simple, as long as we remain close to the Liturgy. The Holy Spirit effects this in us — we don’t necessarily feel it to know it is true. It’s not something that we gain by force or by strain. And if we, living in the world as we do, suddenly realize our mind has gone somewhere else or we’ve become distracted, we have only to glance at an image of Jesus or one of His saints to be right where we need to be.
“The kingdom of Heaven is within.”
For me, cultivating the habit of reminding myself of this “dwelling with God” has really helped my spiritual life, and having little sacred images in my home is very important to that cultivation. Other practices: beginning my day with Mass, following the Propers carefully; praying the Office of Readings on the way there with my husband; praying the Angelus at noon; praying the Rosary with my family in the evening; saying grace at meals; during the penitential seasons, praying Vespers; Compline at night — these are the simple ways that I stay on the path with Our Lord.
Live the Liturgical Year! This is the key!
If I still had little children at home, I would rely very much on the knowledge that the universal Church is continually praying on my behalf. The images in the little oratory would help me to know that and to rest in that gift! It’s not the number of practices that matter, as those can be adjusted to one’s state in life and the demands one experiences. What matters is living liturgically.
DAVID CLAYTON: Praying seven times a day, is a symbolic way of praying without ceasing. To do something seven times is the equivalent of doing it continuously. So I try to do that, and then I add one more so that there are eight. THis is in accord with the ancient liturgical pattern that prays unceasingly and in the pattern of the new covenant and in accord with the psalmist quoted by St Benedict in his rule, ‘seven times a day I will pray to you o lord’ and ‘once during the watches of the night’. So even if I don’t do eight liturgical offices – eg that Offices of the Liturgy of the Hours and Mass, which I don’t most days, I try to do the main ones and then mark certain hours with a little pause for prayer. I do a little routine of eight Jesus prayers, Kyrie, Our Father which takes about a minute! This just become an habitual thing eventually and very easy to incorporate into even a busy life. I find it very helpful because it continually reminds me that all that happens that is good comes from good, and when things aren’t going so well, that He is there to support me.
MICHELE: David, what is the most rewarding aspect of the classes that you teach, and Leila Marie, the most rewarding aspect of your blog? How do those rewards translate into (or maybe I should say complement) “The Little Oratory” philosophy?
LEILA M. LAWLER: The blog for me is a natural extension of my desire to encourage family life. I was so alone when I first started out as a young married woman — I am gratified when I can help someone not re-invent a particular wheel, be it how to do laundry in a large family, how to manage on one income, or how to teach young children about the Faith.
The most rewarding moments for me are when readers tell me that I rescued them from the dire fate of not figuring out how beautiful family life is. When someone writes to me to say that because of something they read on the blog they are more devoted to their family, more open to life, more interested in the Faith — well, that just keeps me going. What a blessing!
DAVID CLAYTON: My hope is to play a part in the transformation of the culture, so when you hear of people who adopt the practices that the LO describes then it is exciting and you hope that this may carry through into a change in how people contribute to the culture. When I hear from artists or architects who are incorporating what you describe into what they do, which happens occasionally, then it is encouraging too.
MICHELE: Time for the CBB signature ending question. This is a blog about books. What books are on your bookshelf to read?
LEILA M. LAWLER: I am currently blogging about The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Ratzinger (who of course became Pope Benedict XVI). So I keep re-reading that one. I’m enjoying Three to Get Married by Fulton Sheen, which I had somehow never read, thinking it was something other than what it is — a very deep study of sex, the body, and marriage.
On my Audible is Frederica by Georgette Heyer — very fun to listen to! I’m working my way through the multi-volume edition of Winston Churchill by Randolph Churchill.
Waiting for me on the shelf is The Face of God by Roger Scruton, which I started last year but haven’t finished. I highly recommend David’s The Way of Beauty, by the way — that one is not on my shelf at the moment, because I lent it to my son-in-law!
DAVID CLAYTON: Well, as you didn’t actually ask me what am I reading, but rather what is on the shelf and there to be read, then this is a cue to mention my other book The Way of Beauty, This describes in a lot more detail the theory of culture, education and an formation beauty of which the pattern of prayer described in the Little Oratory is part – TLO is trying to introduce the ideas at the level of the home. The Way of Beauty is trying to describe how a whole education can be designed to form people from a young age up to graduate level so they contribute to the culture beautifully in all that they do.