A few years ago, I was sitting in the drawing room of what had been an old gentleman’s club in Chicago. The room was filled with leather and ornately carved wood. I could easily imagine men smoking pipes and lounging beneath the chandeliers. There were multiple fireplaces but I was drawn to just one. Above this fireplace was a wooden awning, with two benches in front, facing one another on either side, covered with richly embroidered pillows. The iron grate was curved and delicate, with the flames casting curlicue shadows on the floor. I curled up, tucking my feet under me, my notebook sitting open on my lap. As I got lost staring into the fire, I thought about another hearth that had welcomed me and made me feel this warmth. My spiritual director, Margaret, always put a log on the fire before our times together. But as I reflected, I realized that the physical hearth was secondary to the hearth she created for me in her heart. On that day, I fell in love with the word hearth. I doodled in my notebook all of its connotations and all of the words within this word. Hear, ear, heart, art, earth. I knew that this was what i wanted to create with my life - a living hearth. One not tied to a physical space, but somewhere (anywhere) that people could come and sit and feel welcome. As I daydreamed, I thought of all the times I’d sat by a fire. Coming in from the cold at the cottage, sitting around a rusted fire ring down by the water, sitting huddled with chai and a book. Later that same day in Chicago, I went to a museum where there were tiny dioramas of houses from long ago to present times. Because of my newfound fascination, I noticed that in every home and in every kitchen, there was a hearth. It was the centre of the home, serving many functions, from cooking to heating to gathering. It wasn’t until just recently that the hearths began disappearing, replaced by central heating and only appearing to serve some decorative addendum. And I wondered about this loss, the loss that inevitably comes with progress. The loss of a common gathering space, this central feature that brought warmth and conversation to a home. When I looked up the definition of hearth, home was the second meaning given, just after ‘the floor of the fireplace.’ The third was ‘a vital or creative center.’
So welcome to the hearth.
The hearth of my heart.
This space for listening, for being heard.
For love of earth and art.