From February 5, 1998
There have been moments, many moments, when I wished I were living in a monastery. Wouldn’t it be simpler to be more prayerful, more contemplative, more peaceful in the quiet and order of a hermitage instead of being in the midst of unceasing demands of little ones, unwavering deadlines, and the conflicting schedules of a large family?
Strangely enough, as I leafed through a monastery cookbook looking for a recipe that could easily be quadrupled, I stumbled upon this quote from The Long Rule of St. Basil: “In the midst of our work we can fulfill the duty of prayer, giving thanks to him who has granted strength to our hands for performing our tasks and cleverness to our minds for acquiring knowledge, and for providing the materials.”
This concept appeals to me enormously-- to pray unceasingly through the work of my ordinary days, to consecrate the little things and so to live joyfully in the continual presence of God. I am not new to the idea of doing more than one things at a time. Early in my mothering adventure, it was an idea suggested to me often. Experienced voices sung the praises of cleaning the bathroom while supervising a child’s bath, making a phone call while emptying the dishwasher, and my favorite, listening to books on tape while doing the housework. I even have a postpartum exercise book that suggests the following:
"Start your plies in the bathroom as you finish you bicep curls—then go to the bathroom. Go to the sink and do the wall push and the tricep extension while continuing to work your legs...Do kinetic pushups standing up. Now do your calf raises while brushing your teeth. Then wash your face and contine with the plies and some kegels. Next turn on the shower and while it’s getting hot, do 25 to 50 controlled crunches. Take a shower.”
One can see how the idea of dovetailing can get out of hand. One morning , as I was brushing my teeth and supervising a youngster in the tub, I tried to answer the phone. It didn’t work. After finishing at the sink, concluding the phone call, toweling and dressing my son, it dawned on me that I might be taking efficiency a bit too far. In my effort to do as much as possible with a day that seemed too short, I was missing opportunities to sanctify the moment.
If we shatter time into tiny fragments we cannot be fully present in it. We cannot be conscious that our work is a prayer and find the sacred in the ordinary. We cannot feel the presence of God. To go even further, if we bustle along at this pace, we are not readily available to the people in our lives either. And, finally, we are the short track to burnout, the inability to see, or hear, or feel, or sense the joy that is abundantly present in every day life. We are simply too tired, too stressed, too preoccupied.
Returning to the ridiculous exercise quote, my most fruitful prayers are ones I pray while walking in the early morning. The rhythm of my feet and the wheels of the stroller in front of me, the quiet of the morning and the sounds of God’s creation in nature all work in harmony to bring together a blending of body and spirit. But this requires full time and attention to my walking meditation. It is entirely different from cramming in as many crunches as possible before the water gets hot.
One of the best ways to experience joy in a house full of kids is to pretend you are a monk. Sanctify your movements. All of them. Slow them down. Be aware of your purpose. Give thanks for your chores. Make them holy. Make them happy.
The other day, I happened upon an overstuffed envelope filled with my old columns. Most of them pre-date my time on the internet. I enjoyed some quiet time, re-acquainting myself with the young wife and mother who wrote those columns. And since I'm in need of a bit of a blogging break, I'm going to share her with you in these few weeks. I hope you are blessed.