House cluttered? Bad karma or, rather, bad chi feng shui practitioners would say. In a recent article from the local newspaper's Home and Garden section, the writer extolled the benefits of what some would say is just another philosophy of interior design. According to one practitioner cited, feng shui is "simply a way to arrange your surroundings to promote energy flow and balance, which can help enhance the quality of life." Hmmm. Maybe they should talk with my son, as he has plenty of energy and I can't see that his room is arranged for positive energy flow at all!
Actually, what the article only hints at is something I only found out about with more digging. According to Marcia Montenegro in an article called Feng Shui: New Dimensions in Design, adherents of feng shui believe invisible, magic forces are tamed through occult forms of divination. They posit a "seemingly harmless facade of intricate and detailed decorating advice [and need we also say costly], but behind it is a spiritual belief system based on the concepts of a magical force called chi, the opposing but complementary yin and yang [I sorta think of them as Glenda the Good Witch and her sister the Wicked Witch of the West], and the interaction of the five elements -- earth, water, fire, metal, and wood." Since all objects channel energy, or life force, experienced practitioners need to help you arrange your surroundings in such a way as to channel the energy in positive ways.
Christians need not go much further. Impersonal life force. Channeling energy. We've heard all this before in the many variations of New Age religion. Why people will settle for this impersonal life force over a personal, loving God is a good question. Is it because a personal God demands relationship and relationship accountability? I suspect so. So, it's no surprise that feng shui is not only hooey (I know, shui doesn't really rhyme with hooey, but I couldn't resist) but downright deceptive. Keep your eyes open.
But it's not good enough to see what's wrong with feng shui. We can also make it a practice to look for what's right in what's gone wrong, something I'm really more interested in here -- that is, what is true, good, or beautiful about this pagan philosophy masquerading as an interior design craze? At least three things come to mind. First, as Christians we share a sense that objects are sacred, only we do not believe they emanate life force or energy. Rather, created things bear the imprint of their maker. Just as a painter's canvas is a window to the painter, so objects are windows to the transcendent God. Pablo Neruda (who I do not know to be a Christian) says that "[e]verything in the world has a hidden meaning. . . . Men, animals, trees, stones, they are all hieroglyphics. When you see them you do not understand them. You think they are men, animals, trees, stars. It's only years later that you understand." I think the Orthodox believers among us understand this best in their use of icons as windows to God. One can perhaps understand how this re-sacralization of the inanimate appeals to our naturalistic, materialistic culture who innately sense that something more must be at work here than what meets the eye. Second, just as place matters in feng shui, so place matters to Christians. Indeed, Christians have a penchant for the particular. The Bible is not a book of abstract doctrines but for the most part is rooted in particulars of place, personality, and object. God pronounces the created world good, in all its variety, and so we can and should pay attention and deeply appreciate the place we live in and the things that surround us.
Finally, that our surroundings effect us emotionally is no surprise. God made us as sensual beings who taste, touch, see, and smell things. It didn't have to be that way. That it is that way says something about God and what matters to God. Place matters. People matter. Things matter. In fact, everything matters. And yet, we can also say with feng shui adherents -- "need it, use it, love it, or ditch it" -- as we can become obsessed with things, unable to de-clutter our lives of them, rather than having only those things we need or love. So, feng shui has much to say about the focus of our homes, and about aesthetics, if we can only jettison the underlying pagan spirituality.
One item saved from our somewhat recent house reconstruction is a part of a door frame that has pencil marks on it showing the growth over the years of my two children. Our carpenter saved it for us -- because he knew it had special meaning for us. It does. It symbolizes all those years of growing up and all we went through. It evokes emotion just to see it. Chi? Naah. It's a signpost pointing to the One who gave us that life together. And I'll take a personal Holy Spirit over an impersonal life force any day.