Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spring Cleaning with the Classics: Pilgrim's Progress

"The contemplative in me recognizes the sacred potential in the mundane task, even as the terminally busy go-getter resents the necessity of repetition." ~ Kathleen Norris

My outlook on housework goes through peaks and valleys. For the past few months I've been plodding along through the motions, but my heart hasn't been in my daily tasks. I'm brimming with ideas after spending a year immersed in great classic literature. There are so many things I want to study, so many things I want to write about! Yet every day a thousand tedious chores weigh me down.

This week I've yielded myself completely to spring cleaning. I've plunged in deep and engaged in a rhythm of sorting, folding, tossing, and general tidying. Each year I'm surprised to find myself actually enjoying this process. Of course it's satisfying to create a bit of order out of chaos, but it's also satisfying to ponder the powerful spiritual metaphors which are wrapped up in our most essential tasks.
Then [Interpreter] took [Christian] by the hand, and led him into a very large Parlour that was full of dust, because never swept; the which, after he had received a little while, the Interpreter called for a man to sweep: Now when he began to sweep, the dust began to so abundantly fly about, that Christian had almost therewith been choaked: Then said Interpreter to a Damsel that stood by, Bring hither Water, and Sprinkle the Room; which when she had done, was swept and cleansed with pleasure . . .

This is to shew thee, that when the Gospel comes in the sweet and precious influences thereof to the heart, then I say, even as thou sawest the Damsel lay the dust by sprinkling the Floor with Water, so is sin vanquished and subdued, and the soul made clean, through the Faith of it; and consequently fit for the King of Glory to inhabit.
 John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress 

In The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and "Woman's Work" Kathleen Norris draws connections between life-sustaining routines and rituals of the spiritual life. She recalls the first time she attended a Catholic mass as an adult and was surprised during one point of the ceremony when the priest did the dishes!
I found it remarkable -- and still find it remarkable -- that  in that big, fancy church, after all of the dress-up and the formalities of the wedding mass, homage was being paid to the lowly truth that we human beings must wash the dishes after we eat and drink...

...The Christian religion asks us to place our trust not in ideas, and certainly not in ideologies, but in a God who was vulnerable enough to become human and die, and who desires to be present to us in our everyday circumstances.

I wonder what would happen if started to view housework as a contemplative act with sacred potential. I wonder if dying to my daily whims might in time produce more literary fruit. Is it possible for me to find a constant source of joy in housework? 

Here are links to a couple of my favorite blogs which often attach spiritual significance to essential daily tasks:

We are mothers and daughters spread out along the East Coast, with one roaming Marine wife currently in California. After many unfulfilling phone conversations in which we attempted (with little success) to describe with any accuracy our ongoing projects and domestic triumphs, this blog was born. We found that we also have something to say about making a home.
Auntie Leila is the main writer for this blog. I love her idea of the "reasonably clean house." She has seven grown kids and they all seem to like her. She is gracious and intelligent and has hobbies other than housework. (This gives me hope.)

I keep writing it out here everyday, the words I am seeking to live — about this wondrously messy, everyday-holy life….about finding the beauty and quiet, about slowing to see the sacred in the chaos, the Cross in the clothespin, the flame in the bush. Just listening – laundry, liturgy, life, — all of life, holy ground. A holy experience — because God has flaming bushes everywhere.
Ann Voskamp is the author of the best selling book, A Thousand Splendid Gifts: Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. Her posts are contemplative and poetic.

I recently found this one:

What does the gospel of Jesus Christ have to do with our everyday, mundane lives in the home? Domestic Kingdom is a blog dedicated to discussing this question. 
This blog author, Gloria Furman, has written a book on this subject entitled Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home

I'd love to know your thoughts about the mundane tasks you are faced with each day. Do you drag your feet and dread them like I often do? 

Blessings to all as we prepare to celebrate the Resurrection!


  1. Adriana, this post speaks to my heart. You could have written that first paragraph about me; and you included my FAVORITE passage from P.P. about the Gospel.

    I am going to have to re-read this post several times. I am interested in looking at your numerous resources. Truly, I admit, I have no love for domestic work, but you are right about having new eyes with which to see our duties at home. That is definitely for me!

    1. I'm encouraged by how much we have in common, Ruth. Thank you for letting me know that this spoke to you! Blessings, friend. :)

  2. This is such a great post!!! I too have noticed the abundance of material (blogs, books etc.) out there lately which focus on mundane domestic tasks as spiritual practice and as the milieu in which we meet God and walk with Him and learn to follow Him.

    I was reading a newspaper ethics column this week which was about the yoga "craze," and the columnist (referring to the concept of "thin places") said, "Whether or not they use the metaphor of thin places, religious traditions around the world agree that experiencing holiness requires a person to put aside the dreary concerns of daily living." I would really question that statement. I don't believe Jesus came in the flesh and walked among us so that we could put aside our dreary concerns.

    Don't misunderstand me: there are times we need to take time AWAY from chores and routines to refresh and renew our minds, hearts & bodies. Life has rhythms of work & play, comfort & challenge, movement & rest, etc. But to suggest that holiness requires us to move onto another plane of existence can ultimately only lead to despair for the person (often, let's admit it, a woman) who faces ten loads of laundry, three daily meals, two snotty noses, and a partridge in a pear tree! To know that "God has flaming bushes everywhere," that He walks & talks with us IN the mess and chaos, is so hopeful.

    I could go on & on, but I won't -- just thanks, again!!

    1. Jeannie,

      Just wanted to tell you how much I appreciated what you said . . . ."I don't believe Jesus came in the flesh and walked among us so that we could put aside our dreary concerns."
      God has given us our homes and our children to gaurd, teach, instruct and care and provide for. Thanks for sharing that insight. It's so easy to forget in the daily "dreary concerns" that often weigh us down.

    2. Thanks Christine: I so agree, even if my son HAS been home from school all week with the Crusty Nose of Death. God bless & have a blessed Easter too.

    3. Such good thoughts, Jeannie. I'm grateful that God comes to me where I am, because I can't imagine how in the world I COULD put aside the concerns of daily living!

      "...there are times we need to take time AWAY from chores and routines to refresh and renew our minds, hearts & bodies."

      This is also true and I'm glad you brought this up. Sometimes God MAKES us lie down in green pastures! (Psalm 23)

  3. This is the second time this week I have heard someone mention Ann Voskamp's book. Perhaps God is directing me towards it...

    I love housework. I find it cleansing on many levels and I truly believe there is a peace that comes with cleanliness that cannot be obtained in a messy place. "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" I think. And I do see the correlation in cleaning out the spaces around us as well as cleaning out what is within us.

    1. "...there is a peace that comes with cleanliness that cannot be obtained in a messy place."

      So wise, jo.

      I'd love to know your thoughts on 1000 Gifts. Ann Voskamp's blog was one of the first I followed when I started blogging a few years ago. (Before Classical Quest) I used to take part in her weekly link-up in which participants kept a gratefulness list. It was a wonderful spiritual discipline for me during that time.

  4. I'm a fan of Gloria's Domestic Kingdom blog too, Adriana. Such good insights on faith and family there.

    On contemplating God in our daily chores, have you read about Brother Lawrence? A 17th c. French monk, he spent his time working in the monastery's kitchen while others studied and read and wrote. His maxims are the ones remembered from that community of believers. Here's one he came up with that speaks to what it means to live out our calling in faith:

    "Men invent means and methods of coming at God's love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God's presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?"

    Yes, isn't that quicker and easier?

    1. So true, Tim. Thank you for introducing me to Brother Lawrence. I just loaded The Practice of the Presence of God to my Kindle. Looking forward to reading it very much!

  5. I love reading things about living our faith in small, everyday tasks and homemaking as spiritual practice. I want that! And I am TERRIBLE at it. We are all four chronically messy people and I usually feel like the only one trying to undo the entropy. (This is not actually true, but I'm definitely the most interested.) And most of the time I'd rather read or loaf around on the Internet or sew or do anything but tackle the insurmountable task that is my house.

    I do feel much happier and calmer in an ordered space. It is very rare for that to actually happen. :P

    1. I'm with you, Jean. I would rather READ about homemaking as a spiritual practice and even WRITE about it than actually DO it most of the time! Sad but true. I typically get the pressing stuff done one way or another, but I want to get to a place where I can accomplish my mundane chores with a joyful, contented spirit.

  6. I had a huge push for spring cleaning last week and found it stressful. I failed to find the spiritual side of it, because I was too caught up in the fever of cleaning. Maybe, if I would have taken the time to view it in light of serving a higher purpose, the experience would have been different . . . . better. I'm looking forward to trying to change perspectives with the mound of cleaning left this sping.

    1. Too much cleaning often makes me feel agitated and grumpy -- especially if there is no end in sight and my little people are going behind me undoing all that I have worked so hard for! In the midst of all this discussion about approaching housework as a spiritual practice, I flopped yesterday. In the afternoon I was just CRANKY. My 9yr old daughter said, "Mom I think you need a nap!" And she was right. I fell asleep for two hours! :)

  7. Not cooking for a long time after surgery showed me how much I cherished the rhythm of meal prep: shopping, cooking, even clean-up. Not being able to participate in the regular rhythms of a regular day for a season left me feeling disconnected from my own life. Making meals wasn't part of my identity, but being able to express care for my family in this way was part of the way in which I connected with God's care for those under my roof and round my table.

    1. Thank you for coming by, Michelle. What a treat!

      I can certainly relate to that feeling of disconnection during a recovery period. In light of God's constant care for me, looking after the needs of my family is an honor and a blessing! There is nothing quite like a time of physical weakness to bring this truth into focus.

  8. Hi Adriana, I decided to visit your blog after our mutual friend Jeannie mentioned us both in her birthday post. How beautifully you write, and this post about housework really struck a chord with me. I'm not a big fan of housework, but I find that the mundane tasks that I face each day free my mind to dialog with God more freely than I could if I was minding a cash register or writing computer programs (both jobs I did before I had kids). I like to pray as I work, as God brings people and situations to mind. I may not ever see the results of my prayers, but I trust that God is at work nevertheless. Maureen

    1. Thank you for coming by, Maureen. I appreciate your kind words. Jeannie has become dear friend. Her blog party was such a sweet experience. :)

      I'm so glad this post was something you connected with. As a matter of fact, I'm praying my way through some housework today!

      I visited your blog and left a comment on your "About" page. Blogging openly about depression is a ministry! I experienced postpartum depression for the first time after my fifth baby. It was not something we were prepared for. I felt SO guilty for feeling sad during that time. An empathetic support system is really important. Blessings! :)

    2. Hi Adriana, I was thrilled to read your comment. I'd like to get better at responding - I'm not very good off the cuff, I like to read and reread and reread things I've written until I'm absolutely sure that it's what I want to say. So here goes!
      Postpartum depression is awful. There you are with a new little one and everyone around you is saying how wonderful it is, but your feelings are telling you something very different. I know what you mean about feeling guilty - I had the same problem after my first child, not so much after my second. But then depression hit me quite badly after we moved here to Kingston. Are you feeling better these days? How old are your kids now? Mine are 26 and 23. They say time moves faster the older you get - I'm sure some of those day when the kids were young had more than 24 hours in them... Bless you too! Maureen

    3. It's so nice to hear from you again, Maureen! :)
      I am doing much better now. My kids are boy-10, girl-9, boy-6, boy-3,and girl 16 mo. As you might imagine, life is very, very busy! Yes, I OFTEN wish I had more than 24hrs in a day! Sometimes my "classical quest" feels daunting in light of everything else that is going on, but I've found it to be cathartic. Of course little ones grow up fast and I want to enjoy every moment I have with them. I'm learning how to keep my quest on a low simmer while everything else boils away on the front burner. ;) Have you found writing to be cathartic too?

    4. Hi Adriana, Ah, writing! Cathartic, enthralling and absolutely marvelous when the words and ideas are flowing and the pen seems to fly over the paper! I like to write out my thoughts in my journal first, then type and edit on the computer. The editing process is agonizing and so are the times when I feel that I should write but have nothing to say. I originally set myself a goal of 1 post a week, but even that becomes onerous when I'm not inspired. I have yet to discipline myself to setting aside a special time every day; I usually wait until I have nothing that I "have" to do, but then days go by and I think, "AHHH, must write!" When I have a piece that I am working on, especially a poem that isn't quite finished, it takes over my thoughts to the extent that I forget to turn the oven on or I put apple cores in the salad! Sound familiar?
      But back to that word "cathartic". There are definitely times where I write with the tears rolling down my cheeks - especially when God is touching a sore place with His healing truth. The post that I'm about to type was like that. I didn't write a lot when my kids were little, although occasionally a kid's song would get stuck in my head and I needed to turn it into something more edifying, for example: "My Saviour's love it doesn't end. It just goes on and on, my friend. One day I started praising Him for all the things He does, and I'll continue praising Him forever just because..." (to the tune of "The Song that Never Ends").
      I think that you are a writer, and when you are a writer everything becomes grist for the mill. Enjoy the summer, and take notes for your future quest. I look forward to reading the results. Maureen

    5. Maureen, I just returned from my hiatus. How delightful to read your comment!

      This made me chuckle:
      "When I have a piece that I am working on, especially a poem that isn't quite finished, it takes over my thoughts to the extent that I forget to turn the oven on or I put apple cores in the salad!"

      Yep. I've been there. And the cathartic tears? I've been there too. :) I'm so glad to find that I have another kindred spirit in the world. Take care dear new friend!


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