"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

10 July 2009

Quotidian Mysteries

(especially for you, Michael R. :) Trying to pull myself out of the grip of depression-driven acedia . . .)

I haven't read Kathleen Norris's book with the title of this post, but it intrigued me yesterday when I was browsing around amazon for a gift. I've been reading and thinking a lot lately about the "quotidian mysteries" -- the tasks of the daily round, the routine of ordinary life -- and their salvific effect in life. (Norris writes a great deal about this in Acedia and Me.) I am not a particularly adventurous type, so the desire for travel, wild events, and so on is not a major temptation for me. Yet with just about everyone, I at times find the daily round "boring" and am tempted to denigrate routine tasks as "menial" -- in the snobbish sense of being beneath my time and energy.

In fact, too often in our Western affluent culture we resent these jobs, doing them under protest and with a sour spirit or hiring them done if we have the resources, and we look down on those who do such work for their living as somehow not as good or as important as those of us who don't work with our hands . . . a horrificly ungodly judgment of God's creation.

Yet the daily routine of life is essential to our well-being. At the merely practical level, daily tasks simply have to be done, by somebody, or we couldn't manage -- most of us want clean clothes and clean dishes, and a reasonably clean and neat environment in both in the home and the community; as well, the daily tasks of any job may not be glamorous but are essential -- teachers have to grade and prep and record, writers have to revise and edit and keep financial records, musicians have to practice scales and chords . . .

But these tasks are essential in an even more important way: they save us from pride, from sloth, from all manner of wrong thinking and being. It is in the daily tasks of life that God meets us most clearly, I believe. I do not deny the loveliness and positive effect of miracles and mountain-top times, but these can only carry us so far; they do not occur every day, and even when we experience them the effects last only so long. I am not changed permanently by one exciting event; I am changed permanently by living for my Lord simply and humbly in the daily round.

Here in the "quotidian mysteries" is where I am tempted by frustrations and irritations of all sorts. Here is where I am tempted to think too highly of myself, that I am above these menial tasks. Here is where I am tempted to desire change and newness for their own sake, glorious deeds for the attention drawn to my wonderfulness.

But here, if I humbly accept the tasks as God's design for my nature, I can find satisfaction and peace and His word working itself out in me. I can hear His voice so much more easily if I listen for it in the daily round instead of solely in the prayer meeting or worship service. He builds patience, contentment, and perseverance, essential qualities in a fallen world, in this daily round.

I quoted a few days ago from Norris's book Acedia and Me about the monk who was shown the vision of daily routine as the way to salvation from sloth and self-centeredness. I know it is true; it has been my salvation from the deadly depths of depression again and again. If I could only hold onto this truth . . .


Stephen said...

It strikes me that the modern Western attitude toward manual labor is very similar to that of the Greeks, and dissimilar to that of medieval man. It's not quite that simple, of course -- (many medieval intellectuals were less than enthusiastic about working with their hands) -- but still, it's odd, considering that the greatest production of medieval theology, the Summa, was in many respects an attempt to harmonize Aristotle with the Bible.

Publius said...

Again, this warrants the comment, "I miss encountering your insights regularly." Even thought it's horribly tempting and easy to forget the "simple" things in our convoluted and complex lives, I'm with you. They are absolutely necessary, and even freeing. How often I too forget and take for granted or ignore so many blessings.

While I can't quite remember if you're referring to past conversations we've had or more recent correspondences, I have no doubt God's grace -- another example of beautiful simplicity -- will draw you out of "depression-driven" acedia."

Blessings to you, ma'am. And thanks for the insights.

Terra said...

"Quotidian mysteries" is a lovely phrase, and yes, our daily routine tasks can be part of our worship and salvation.
I enjoy prayer walking and the idea that each step we take, even to the laundry room, is a step on holy ground.
This for sharing the phrase and thoughts with us. Are you a member of TWV?

Terra said...

Ha ha, I meant to write "thanks for sharing", not "this for sharing".

Beth Impson said...

Thanks for visiting, all -- I've been snowed under the burden of feminism for Summit the past several weeks . . . hope to come up for air soon . . . How's that for mixing metaphors?!

Terra, welcome to Inscapes. I like the idea of prayer walking; I need to walk more anyway! Yes, I'm a new member of TWV and enjoying the posts there.

barn swallow said...

Thanks for this post. I read it before cleaning the oven--and consequently found something cheering about the job. Also, it was fun to wipe up all that black goop.

What a challenge it is to realize that the small things fit us and we aren't really stooping at all when we do them.

Unknown said...

You are welcome, dear Elena! Thanks for stopping by!

Fieldfleur said...

Holding onto the truth ... that is the hard thing to do at times. Perhaps truth can be the apron that's always tied around us even when we don't feel that it's there.

I enjoyed your post; I've been distracted and busy this year, and I want to return to good things like your thoughts! Hope all is well!

I've always enjoyed reading Kathleen Norris' works.

Take care,