Drudgery and divinity

Sunday was one of those rare days I’ve come to treasure almost above all others: a day with absolutely no plans.  We puttered as a family, each of us doing his or her own thing, coming together in various combinations at different moments.  Grace and I went to the grocery store and to drop some things off at Goodwill, and she sighed from the backseat, “Mummy, I love days like this with you.”  My eyes filled immediately and I nodded, not speaking for fear she’d hear the tears in my voice.  Whit and I curled up on the couch and he read The Velveteen Rabbit to me, proud of his newly-fluent reading.  The kids and I made cookies for their school’s teacher appreciation lunch, and then worked at the dining room table on a puzzle while they baked, the house filling with sugar cookie smell and the sound of Christmas carols.

I made homemade tomato sauce and apple sauce, hardboiled some eggs, baked two potatoes for lunch.  I did two loads of laundry.  As I was folding Whit’s pajamas and stacking Grace’s jeans in a careful pile, I felt a swell of gratitude and of well-being.  I realized, not for the first time, that there is something I find deeply comforting and satisfying in the most quotidian domestic tasks.  It has to do with the mundane and the magnificent that I have written about before, with the way that life is a collage of the prosaic and the transcendent.  I wrote then, and I still believe, that the divinity and the drudgery are both essential for me, and that somehow they sharpen each other’s vividness.

This belief is joined now by a new one: in some way that I don’t quite understand yet, the drudgery actually allows me to access the divine.  Over the last few years we’ve cut way back on our childcare, and I have all of the household responsibilities now.  And I am startled, I admit, by the deep sense of satisfaction these tasks give me.  I feel actual happiness when I fold laundry, or when I unpack half-eaten lunch sandwiches, or when I wake my children up every single morning, brushing their sleep-tangled hair back from their faces.  Or perhaps what I feel is contentment.  But I’m not sure there’s a big difference between happiness and contentment anyway; are you?

I suspect that this is a manifestation of a larger settling into my own life, a sinking into what is, in all its dishwasher-emptying, lunch-packing, homework-checking reality.  The everyday details and endless work of taking care of a house, and children, and a marriage sometimes daunt and frustrate me, sure.  But more often than not, these days, they also fill me with something warm and steady that feels awfully good.  I am certain it’s no accident that this sinking in comes just as I realize how truly numbered these days are.  This time, with small (and medium) children at home, of lost teeth and found pennies, of delight at a bird on the porch and despair at a missing teddy bear, will not furl out indefinitely.  For some reason lately I sense the preciousness of these days; the awareness that they will end floats constantly around the corners of my experience.  For so many years I assumed that life would be this way forever, one combative naptime spilled into another, the rocking before bedtime felt endless, and so forth.  I took these days – with their bathtimes and melanine plates and kissed bruises, their exhaustion and their wide-eyed wonder – for granted.

But no, they aren’t forever.  In fact they only last a minute.  And I am so immensely grateful that I realized that before they were gone, and that I found, in my daily chores and responsibilities, a door through which I can glimpse the holiness of this season in my life.


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14 Comments

  1. Posted December 13, 2011 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    This is stunning, and so wise. I am in a season of my life, and my blogging, where it is more of a struggle to determine what to write and what to reveal. Today is one of those days. I have no post (yet) to publish. But I come here and read your words and I am reminded how magical this odd little corner of the world can be, how soaked it can be with meaning and moment, and I feel automatically inspired. Thanks, Linds.

  2. Posted December 13, 2011 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    I love this. This is life, this moment and that one, and you’ve illuminated it all beautifully here, Lindsey.

    thank you.

    XOXO

  3. Posted December 13, 2011 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    At least once a week I think of your words, “life is a practice and a poem,” which I think is very much along the same lines. I admit, at this stage of the motherhood game, I feel much more of the drudgery than the divinity. I think I’m more suited to helping someone learn how to read and bake than play finger games and other baby-focused tasks that so many of my friends seem to enjoy, but that make me want to tear my hear out. So I wonder: do you think you have the perspective you do with time and experience on your side, or because this stage of motherhood suits your personality better?

  4. Posted December 13, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful, Lindsey. I’m relieved to find myself thrilling at the invitation I sense is here, to re-engage with the tasks associated with raising my babes and to rediscover what I see I have lost: that contentment you so beautifully describe. I get it. I want it. It’s such a simple yet profound experience, and a choice to avail ourselves of it or to turn away.

    Thank you.

  5. Posted December 13, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Tears. This is so beautiful.

    And your words make me think of what you’ve written over the years about wanting to feel safe. I wonder if these routines give you – as they give me – a sense of safety, of certainty in life’s dailiness.

    And, yes, I think contentment and happiness are the same thing, or at least very close friends.

    Thank you for this gorgeous post today. xo

  6. Posted December 13, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    What’s really interesting, is that for me these tasks have become quite annoying. Brian has so generously taken up much more than his share! For so long I relished and “found” the divine right in the laundry-folding etc. But something outside the home and hearth is calling me. A new season in my life. It’s all about balance. It’s about honoring the “new” balance that’s needed. The promptings within us – for being right here at home or…out in the world. That’s where I’m at right now!

  7. Posted December 13, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Lindsay I am not even kidding when I say I felt EXACTLY the same way on Sunday. As I was migrating one load of laundry from the washer to the dryer I felt swept up in this powerful connection to domesticity. It warmed me to the core and I was incredibly grateful for the moment. I find it tremendously telling that we were in the same place that day.

  8. Posted December 13, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this! I have been fighting “settling into my own life”, ppting instead to attempt to change everything around me so that I can have my life. This is my life–laundry, homework, single-but not really parenting, and if I can just slow down and stop fighting, I will see that it is also SO MUCH more.

  9. Posted December 13, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    sugar, i read this post first thing this morning, and it warmed me all day long. drudgery and divinity are synonymous. at least some times. john o’donohue says the beauty is special because we only catch it in glimpses. experiencing drudgery as divinity is like that – beautiful because we only catch it in glimpses.

  10. Posted December 14, 2011 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    Oh holy words. I love your take on this–drudgery and divinity–is exceptionally perfect. As I know you know, I feel these same emotions and often times, settle the most into the drudgery and when there, I am finally able to see the divine. xoxoxo

  11. Posted December 14, 2011 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Yowza. This is so beautiful!!! I am just beginning to settle into my own life and it’s only happened over the last few months. It’s a kind of surrender and a beginning of loving what is. I wish I could capture it as eloquently as you – thank you as always for helping me discover what is inside me and what is possible in the wider world.

  12. Posted December 14, 2011 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    I love this post!

    Thank you SO much for leaving a comment at my blog on Monday and letting me know that you were also appreciating life’s quotidian pleasures in this post.

    Noticing the divine in our everyday tasks really does unlock the fullness of life. I am so grateful for reminders of this fact, because it is too often that I forget.

    So, thank you, Lindsey!

  13. Posted December 14, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    A beautiful post, and a great reminder (to me) to slow down and not take these days for granted. I think the difference is often a question of being in the moment, rather than rushing through or obsessing over the moment! I’m not always good at this, but trying 🙂

  14. Posted December 18, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the lovely reminder to maintain presence in every task, no matter how mundane they seem. There’s no sense in rushing mindlessly on to the next thing. Sometimes I find myself rushing even though there may not be a need to rush, just so i can “get it over with.” Take a deep breath and find the simple pleasure in washing the dishes. Thank you for another inspiring post!