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Book Review: The Art of Family

The Art of Family: Rituals, Imagination, and Everyday Spirituality Gina Bria (1998, Dell Books)

Traditions, rites, memories, rituals:  These are overwhelming to parents desiring to foster a nurturing home environment for their children — one of joy, playfulness, freedom to be who they (and we) are, common courtesy, respect, and unconditional love. Such big shoes to fill, and we know it.

Truth be told, the only words I hear myself uttering over and over again these days is “No,” and “Please get off your brother’s head.” My wife and I agree, in this capacity we seem to be vinyl records (albums, they once were called) caught in a scratched rut with no end in sight. How do we go about creating and fostering a careful, mind-opening home environment when our parental minds are already nearly melted? How to go about molding a lasting family when we have zero previous experience at the job? From what place does creativity come when we’re bone tired by 6pm? How to win over fear when the world outside our walls is treacherous, unfriendly, and chronically bleak? The task seems insurmountable and unattainable, but it has been done before; parents have survived parenthood, and our own children one day, God willing, will be up to the task themselves.

Family-creating, as author and anthropologist Gina Bria points out in her wonderfully articulate, and refreshingly non-judgmental book, The Art of Family, is indeed an art, and oftentimes art must be trudged through in order to get the right colors on the canvas, the right words on the page, the flowers in the correct garden soil and light. A family is a “little society” from which play, ritual, imagination and story all are reinjected into the contemporary home. In Bria’s own words, The Art of Family is “not a guide or manual to ‘achieving’ family [but] a book about applied hope and intelligence, a short definition of imagination. I hope this book and its stories will be a new imaginative friend to you, sparking new ideas, offering solace, giving rest.” Fulfilling the author’s expressed hope, my wife and I continue to pull this book from the shelves from time to time as a sort of reference, an encouragement, and something like a steady friend.


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