IKEA is an empty place. Here’s one way Catholics can make it meaningful
October 18, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — I suppose most of you have been to an IKEA Warehouse, that perfect embodiment of the Swedish dream: an all-enclosing welfare society that takes care of your whole life: literally from the cradle to the grave, though I do not think there are any IKEA coffins — yet. For those of you who have not been blessed with an IKEA experience, I need to mention that it is not only a warehouse filled with furniture, cutlery, light bulbs and dishwashers; the genius lies in how these things are displayed, and the management of your path through the displays and installations.
You find your way through the IKEA maze in a movement properly called circumambulation. We who have been to a Hindu temple or two know that this is how you show your reverence toward the holiest of the holy, the womb shrine containing the main idol; you circumambulate it with your right arm toward it at all times: clockwise with other words. If it is a large temple, you might pass smaller shrines watched by individual Brahmins imploring you to buy a flower, or some other small gift, as an offering to their lesser idol. In a similar way, the secular shopper making his way from Bedroom to Kitchen is tempted to pick up some insignificant item at each department. He might imagine himself thereby to have obtained something useful for his home; but, suppose, it was his religious instincts obliging him to make a small offering; what if the decoration ball Torka he brought home was a souvenir of pilgrimage?
Despite the ritual structure of the IKEA warehouse, it contains no hints at transcendence; sure, the ambulating persons answer an inchoate sacred instinct, but it is deflected to the mundane; you are enclosed within an affordable, sacralized, democratic immanence. There are even no signs of pseudo-transcendence: those transgressions of materialists such as the ecstasies brought on by drugs, loud rhythmic music, jarring modern art pushing the human imagination beyond its natural limits. No, everything is there to please, and in a very Swedish manner too: safety first.
There are a number of devices to make sure you stay out of trouble: life vests for boat travels, helmets for bicycling and fire extinguishers to put on display in your home, always ready for minor disasters. The sharp edges are sanded down; the art decorative, merely exuding a faint glimmer of stylishness. The soothing elevator music is not too lively to make you run out in search for life, or too slow to make you fall asleep in the one of the beds, but perfectly calibrated to keep you hobbling forward steadied by the shopping trolley. You are unwittingly participating in a cult of domesticity; thinking that happiness, or at least satisfaction, can be achieved through material things, even assembled according to instructions.
I do not know about you, but somewhere in the middle of this experience, I begin to feel uneasy; at first, not really knowing why — maybe frustrated with the kids jumping in one of the sofas, or my wife going through all varieties of rugs — but, then, realizing with something similar to the nausea made famous by the existentialist philosopher Sartre, “Why do the windows not open up onto a real landscape; why, when I look up, do I only see silvery ventilation tubes; and why are there no water in the taps; no real humans at the dinner table.” And, more ominously, there are no pictures, statues, or symbols allowing my spirit a flight to what is beyond the mundane and the “sensible” desires of the body. There is no escape, except through the checkout counter. My spirit has been trapped inside a nice secular society, and it is desperately looking for a fissure; a sign of something larger and sublime shining through; but to no avail, everything is in perfect opaque condition.
The only symbolical object my eyes find is an hourglass called Tillsyn; it is supposed to give you a “feeling of time,” but its name means in Swedish: supervision. No escape with other words. Standing there filled with immanence vertigo, an idea came to me. An act of civil disobedience: “Maybe, one could introduce a window to the divine, a sign hinting at the life of the spirit. Why not build a Marian shrine in the middle of this temple of mammon?”
In an instance, a transformation would take place, a center established, symbolically pointing to something outside the artificial sacral domesticity created in this simulacrum of a home.
The first step, as I envisaged it, would be to bring a medium-sized Madonna statue, suitably disguised; second, take a small light from the lamp department, preferably an electric one not to set off a fire alarm, perhaps the LED tealight Mognad (maturity); third, in the bedroom department, unravel the Madonna and put her and the light on the 8-drawer dresser Hemnes; fourth, turn on the light. Then, sink deep into the comfy armchair Färlöv, and wait to see the reactions; or just enjoy this subversion of the secular world, secretly fingering your rosary.