Liturgy and Housework

Last weekend, I had 24 hours without husband and kids. I fully intended to read three books, drink endless cups of tea and sleep at least 14 hours. Before I started my book, I put on a load of laundry. When I went to transfer it to the dryer, I found a load in need of folding. And when I put the clothes away, I found a disaster in my three-year-old’s closet. And when I went to organize, I found 7 sippy cups under her bed. I couldn’t put the cups in the dishwasher without running it. After hand washing the remaining dishes, I noticed the counter was dirty, so I cleaned it, along with the kitchen and dining room tables. And the chairs.  And the floors. And maybe a window or two. Nine hours later, I was ready to start reading. So I opened my book in bed and was asleep after three pages.

I drifted off feeling like I’d completely blown my alone time. No leisurely walks, no extended times of prayer, no scripture memory to report.

Yet, I woke up sensing God telling me, “This is living.”

I still misunderstand being with God. It’s not about always waiting for a good stack of time to power through books or escape on an extended prayer retreat. Life is rarely retreats or books or even Sunday mornings at church. Life is all the space in between.  It’s the frustrating dog accidents or scrubbing crayon off the walls. It’s the routine of getting the mail or unloading the dishwasher. It’s buying stamps and returning calls and making the bed or going to work.

And this life, this routine, the emails and challenge of loving our physical neighbors can be our greatest act of worship.

I’m frustrated with the over generalization the female population has made regarding the Mary and Martha story in Luke 10.  Martha was stupid. Mary was smart. It’s about being, not doing. Cooking is wrong, sitting is right. So, when is it okay to do? How am I supposed to know when it’s ok to make dinner and when I need to be in my prayer closet?

We misunderstand the text if we think action was Martha’s problem. The bigger question was, did she ever look Jesus in the face? Did she pay attention to him? Did she realize he was in her house?

As we go through our routine, do we realize God is in our house?

Kathleen Norris in her book The Quotidian Mysteries talks about laundry and liturgy being very similar in nature. Laundry always has to be done. No matter how many loads have been washed, you can never fully cross that one off the list. Worship is the same. We are in constant need of communion with the God who speaks to us regarding who we are.

If our goal in our routine is ever to finish or accomplish, we’ll be frustrated enough to slam our head in a car door. It’s never done. Work comes every morning. Towels must be hung. Children still need us in adulthood. Friendships must be maintained. But this is not wasted work. This is the rhythm of life.

We always have the opportunity to open ourselves up to the new and the transformative even in the midst of the mundane.

I spent nine hours picking up toys which will end up on the floor tomorrow. I spent nine hours windexing handprints I know will come right back. But I also spent nine hours alone with God, allowing God to awaken my truest desires and call out my harmful motivations.

Housework and daily routine gives us the opportunity to be, even as we’re doing—to recognize it’s not about finishing, it’s not about accomplishing, it’s about living—day in and day out, figuring out how to be present to Jesus who is present to us.

Our routine grounds us in the truth that we are human. That no matter what grand things we do, we still need to wash our dishes and fold clothes. We still need to answer the call to daily commune with God so that we can learn to be the people we already are. And as I wait for my kids to get back, I know I’m more in touch with my truest desires than I was nine hours ago.

Christina May Gibson is amazing at Ms. Pac-man and just concluded her last semester of seminary and work in the area of pastoral care at Baylor University.  She has a voice crush on Norbert Leo Butz and a mild obsession with whales. She loves laughing with her husband and chasing her 3 and 5 year olds. Christina blogs irregularly here.

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  1. says: Cole Matson

    This was beautiful, Christina. One thing I appreciate about Benedictine spirituality (and Kathleen Norris) is the mantra of “ora et labora”, prayer and work. The manual labour connects us to God, just the same as the prayer. I also enjoy Br Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God (which I recommend if you haven’t read it yet – it’s very short). I like how this simple lay brother says his experience of God’s presence didn’t change, whether he was working in the kitchen or in the chapel praying with his brothers and receiving the Eucharist. God was always steadily, silently there.

  2. says: Jennifer Agee

    Thanks very much for this post. I am often discouraged by the never-ending nature of housework — I don’t particularly mind cleaning; what I mind is cleaning *again*. Lately I’ve been reminding myself that the ancients viewed the home as a kind of a temple. It’s a way of adding meaning into what otherwise seems meaningless. Your analogy of liturgy is very helpful. Instead of reluctantly washing the dishes once for God, I can do it again and again for God, as a practice instead of a futile attempt to create lasting order.

  3. says: Alex Farrell

    You have a very Barbara Brown Taylor-esque feel to your writing, easily relatable and packed with necessary insight. Wonderfully written.

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