<em>Illustration: Simon Letch</em>

Illustration: Simon Letch

Home decorating is the new religion: it's often done on a Sunday, involves a visit to a large building (in this case, Bunnings) and entails a generous donation being placed in the collection plate (aka cash register).

Then it's back home to install the shelves/light fittings/ballcock, at which point the words ''Jesus Christ'' are often used. Then, when the job is complete and displayed to others, a further devotional outburst can oft be heard: ''Oh my god.'' Usually followed by ''What have you done?''

In this context, it can hardly be surprising to read that the Ikea catalogue has now overtaken the Bible as the book which has the most copies printed each year. Some see this as a sign of crisis - the ultimate triumph of materialism over religion - but that's to ignore the spiritual lesson embedded in both the Ikea catalogue and in home decorating more generally.

The Ikea store itself is a metaphor for life. You enter full of uncertainty, confused as to which direction to head, then find yourself swept along with the crowd. With all the twists and turns in the journey, it's hard to know in what direction you are travelling. And, certainly, it's incredibly difficult to choose your own path.

It's also impossible to know when the end will come. Sometimes, you turn the corner and there it is: the end. You realise it's all over and you haven't really got what you came for. More commonly, by the time you are finished you are so footsore and weary, you are quite relieved it's all over.

Along the way, there are some good experiences, most notably the meatballs. (Scholars who have studied the ancient Ikea scripts caution that in this context the word ''meatball'' is a metaphor for all the earthly pleasures, such as sex, rock'n'roll and watching The Voice while half-pissed.)

Ikea's furniture is a text in itself. Its ability to fall apart within a few years is surely a metaphor for the impermanent nature of existence. The way the shelves bend when overloaded indicates the dangers of focusing too much on the collecting of worldly wealth. And the use of veneers, glued on to a cheap chipboard structure, is surely a lesson about valuing what is real and deep. Certainly the Bible teaches us about the treacherous nature of the surface of things … but so does a Billy bookshelf left out in the rain.

Putting together your piece of furniture brings further insights into the human condition. Success is born of patience, diligence and an understanding that there will always be a mystery to existence: in this case, the one bolt that's left over, which can never be placed.

Really, the church has no option but to ditch the Bible and start basing its lesson on what is now, let's face it, the more popular book: ''Today's lesson is taken from the Ikea catalogue 2012, pages 10 and 11, the erection of the Lillangen.''

There will be a shuffling sound as the congregation turns to the correct page. ''And, verily, did the man become sorely distracted, for he hath confused the plugs marked A with the plugs marked B, and when the plugs marked B did not fit in the holes marked A, did he become full of a terrible wrath and, lo, did he smite those plugs marked B with his hammer, aka 'the home handyman's screwdriver', thus breaking them and making the whole Lillangen impossible to assemble. And, verily, did his wife look at the shattered mess and say unto him: 'Next time we'll have to get a proper bloke in'.

''And the man, who was sorely tired, replied, 'Do not forsake me in my time of need, for I am greatly ashamed.'

''Verily, did he then show his wife the assembly instructions and how they contained no words but only markings, strange runes really, as one might find on an ancient Mayan temple, with hatched bits, and eyeballs, and things circled, and arrows flying here and there as if it were the Battle of Agincourt.

'''And so verily,' the man will say, 'did I smite the plug marked B with my hammer, so great was my confusion and my sorrow.' And, at that, the woman did forgive him, for not only is forgiveness divine but it's also fair enough, once you've had a squiz at the completely baffling instructions.''

Both priest and congregation will then close their catalogues and raise their voices in song. ''All things cheap and sturdy, Ikea makes them all.''

Of course, once you let one piece of Ikea furniture into your home, it tends to multiply. As the priest will no doubt note: ''And the Billy begat the Hemnes, and the Hemnes begat the Samtid, and the Samtid begat the Torsby.''

The parishioners will laugh at that one because it's true.

Shop once at Ikea and a month later it's like living with the band members of Abba - your bum in a Bjorn and your feet on a collapsible Frida.

Which is not a bad thing. Not once you consider the spiritual guidance that lies therein.

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