Monday, March 13, 2006

The Building Blocks of Eternal Things

Yesterday’s entry reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women’s Work by Kathleen Norris (who wrote Dakota and The Cloister Walk). This little book is the text of a lecture she gave on the every-day-ness (that’s what "quotidian" means) of women’s work and how much it is like worship, especially liturgical worship which is full of repetition, yet is “new every morning.” Liturgy means “work of the people,” and she examines, as only a poet can, the connection between work and worship.

I wrote yesterday of activities that seem repetitious, time-consuming and somewhat meaningless, yet they are the building blocks of eternal things. It reminded me of this section in The Quotidian Mysteries. Norris explains that her sister-in-law used to pick up her daughter every day from day care:

...and every afternoon she brought Christina an orange, peeled so that the child could eat it on the way home. One day Christina was playing…and I asked her what her mother did at work. Without hesitation, and with a conviction that I relish to this day, she looked up at me and said, “She makes oranges.”

And this is what God does, I think, making oranges and wind and the ocean and green leaves and everything else that constitutes our earthly home. Christina’s mother had fulfilled a priestly role—in the archetypal sense, in the priesthood of all believers—by allowing the child to participate in a daily ritual, a liturgy of the delicious orange, bright as the sun, sweet with the juice that is the body and blood of this world. The child who is thus fed by a mother’s love eventually learns to trust in others, and also in God. The fruit we are given is not always what we expect or want; it may even be bitter, but we are secure in knowing that it is given to us out of love. The capacity for trust that begins in such ordinary human encounters, as between a mother and child, can come to have a deep religious significance, not only for ourselves, but for the entire community of faith.

She goes on to quote Gerard Manley Hopkins:

It is not only prayer that gives God glory but work. Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, white-washing a wall, driving horses, sweeping, scouring, everything gives God some glory if being in His grace you do it as your duty. To go to communion worthily gives God great glory, but to take food in thankfulness and temperance gives Him glory too. To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a dungfork in his hand, a woman with a slop pail, give Him glory, too. God is so great that all things give Him glory if you mean that they should.

Norris again:

This is incarnational reality, the sanctity of the everyday…. Laundry, liturgy and women’s work all serve to ground us in the world, and they need not grind us down. Our daily tasks, whether we perceive them as drudgery or essential, life-supporting work, do not define who we are as women or as human beings. But they have a considerable spiritual import…it is daily tasks, daily acts of love and worship that serve to remind us that religion is not strictly an intellectual pursuit….

I love the expression, “a liturgy of the delicious orange.” I think when my kids are grown they will remember “the liturgy of the read-aloud on the couch,” “the liturgy of conversation in the car,” and “the liturgy of putting on our makeup before a show” just as well as they remember the actual liturgy of Morning Prayer which we try to do, at least in part, most days. Even when I do these things imperfectly, with impatience or annoyance, they minister to a child…and how much better when I can do them with love and a sense that I am worshiping God in doing them!


sparrow said...


Lei said...

After I had my third my mother-in-law recommended providing my second with a daily ritual, just he and I. She then told me that she and my husband used to sit on the edge of her bed every morning for an orange and a 30 min. cartoon!

maria said...

i had forgotten (until just now) that my introudction to life-as-liturgy writing has been norris. (in the cloister walk) a good reminder to pick her up again soon!

maria said...

i had forgotten (until just now) that my introudction to life-as-liturgy writing has been norris. (in the cloister walk) a good reminder to pick her up again soon!