Remembering Edith Schaeffer, the Evangelical in Pearls and Chanel No. 5
Edith Seville Schaeffer, co-founder of L'Abri and author of more than a dozen books, died Saturday at age 98.
In her autobiography, The Tapestry, Edith emerges as a woman overflowing with beauty, energy, creativity, and love, a woman whose every encounter seems to have been "charg'd with the grandeur of God." In a time when evangelicals were suspicious of all things worldly, Edith reveled in music and dance, in her neat little figure and in beautiful clothes: "I was 5-foot-2 and weighed 102 pounds and wore clothes that looked like they had come out of the best shops" she tells us, breathlessly, as an example of why she didn't measure up to the standards of Christian womanhood at that time, which, apparently, included dowdiness as well as a rejection of culture. She was intelligent and full of conviction. She had a lot to say.
Despite not measuring up in some ways, Edith epitomized, and perhaps helped to establish, standards of Christian womanhood: resourcefulness, self-denial, femininity. She worked tirelessly as a seamstress in their Philadelphia apartment while her husband Francis Schaeffer studied in seminary, thoughtfully packing identical lunches for them as a way of being "together when apart," so that they could taste the same flavors and feel the same "degree of hunger" by dinnertime. As a young pastor's wife and mother, she single-handedly catered weddings, complete with hand-filled cream puffs. She sewed beautiful clothes for her children, read to them from the classics, and took them to art museums, all, of course, while keeping her figure and continuing to wear good clothes, pearls, makeup, Chanel No. 5., and, after the children were tucked into bed, a black negligee.
When I was growing up, my dad had the hardback, rainbow colored Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer on his bookshelves; Edith's books—What is a Family?, Common Sense Christian Living, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, and of course, L'Abri, were scattered throughout the house. Elementary days homeschooling often began with an object lesson from Everybody Can Know; before I was out of high school I'd read every Edith Schaeffer book in the house, studying what it meant to be a good Christian woman. As a college student living in decidedly ugly dormitories, I read and re-read a library copy of Hidden Art trying to bring an aesthetic sensibility to my everyday life: writing out my notes neatly and beautifully, artistically arranging the loathsome cafeteria food on the unaesthetic plates and trays, and, occasionally, bringing in fresh flowers. Seeing the copy of Hidden Art tucked into my bag, a friend who also felt the aesthetic deprivations of college life remarked, "Yes. That book is nourishment."
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