The contemplatives often write that God is revealed in the mundane, that in my laundry, my dishes, my baby’s diapers, and in the liturgical, repetitive tasks of my day there are opportunities to find the God who incarnated small and humble. But there are mornings when just getting out of bed to perform those daily duties seems too much to bear.
Instead of seeking God in the minutiae of my life, I would much prefer to have a more powerful sense of God. When my hands are elbow-deep in the dregs of rinse water, I would rather have a vision of God in the way of Teresa of Avila, who saw the soul as a castle.
Can’t my soul be a fairy castle, please?
Alas, my days are not filled with turrets or moats but with the repetitive mundane: the same bowls and plates that I washed yesterday that will be used and washed again. Musician Sara Groves sings it as, “setting up the pins for knocking them down.”
Thankfully, my story is not new or unique. My tasks and my responses to them are as old as dishes to eat food upon, as clothes to wash, as dirty baby bottoms to be wiped. I’m glad to read that Kathleen Norris’s reaction in her book The Quotidian Mysteries is not far from my own. “When confronting a sinkful of dirty dishes,” she remembers the words of Kierkegaard: ‘“repetition is reality, and it is seriousness of life . . . repetition is the daily bread which satisfies with benediction.”’
I read this again; is Kierkegaard really telling me that when I wake in the morning and see the same tasks before me as yesterday, I should feel satisfied instead of despairing? When I am tired and my house and I are both groaning from the clutter, I wonder how to do this.
Norris has a suggestion: worship.
But they can both be more. Just as our human attempts at worship draw us into a deeper relationship with God, incorporating prayer into daily tasks brings God and the supernatural into our ritual. From the pastoral poetry of the Psalms and the lists of Leviticus, to the delicate creation of the world, Norris says this “ludicrous attention to detail . . . might be revisioned as the very love of God.”
So, prayer is essential but there is also this: Norris says that in these tasks, “God is inviting me to play.” To play? If I struggle to feel satisfaction in these tasks, finding play in them seems near impossible.
Norris points out something that I have also found to be true: that young children not only love the same activities that we loathe, like dishes and kitchen play, but they thrive on repetition in many types of circumstances. Who has not heard a child ask to “read it again” after a beloved book? Whose child hasn’t delighted in telling the same knock-knock joke that makes a parent groan?
Why is it different for me, as an adult? Is it because a child’s kitchen play is just that, play? And my kitchen and laundry tasks are duty?
Maybe God is revealed, not in the breaking through of our daily minutiae but, rather, in us when we begin to play more like our children. G.K. Chesterton says that “grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony,” the monotony that make children grow and thrive. Maybe children are the key to our experience of God. Maybe we have outgrown the Father, the baby son, the Holy Ghost. Maybe Chesterton is right, that God “has the eternal appetite of infancy . . . and our Father is younger than we.”
How can I learn to play? I think that praying during these tasks is important. And being more present with my children can be a reminder of the things I’ve forgotten as a stuffy adult. But sometimes I think that my writing is itself crucial to benediction. As much as I might wish it, God will probably not appear as an apparition out of a basket of laundry. But maybe God’s appearance will happen later as I write, or within the words I pray as I perform my tasks. Maybe I don’t always have to see God at every moment. But as I gaze back on my day while typing these words, gleaning meaning, searching for the right ways to describe the feel of the soapy water on my fingers, reminding myself of the need to watch my children and meditate on the Psalms, I think I’ve approached both prayer and play. And perhaps I am sustained for another day’s dawning, living, and sunset.