‘The trouble with housework is you spend the whole day cleaning, washing, dusting, sorting… and then six months later, you have to do it all again!’Ah, the cycle of futility! We are all part of it, like it or not. And sometimes we don’t, so deeply that we wobble off the cycle for a while, or in extreme cases altogether. I know two helpful books that address this problem, one is called ‘The Quotidian Mysteries’ by Kathleen Norris, the other is called ‘Ecclesiastes’.
So what problem, some of you might be asking in cheerful bewilderment? The problem of living today what you lived yesterday and having to do the same things all over again – not like Groundhog Day, reliving the same events but each time with new creative possibilities, but an endless weary cycle of action and response, like the grass growing and needing to be mowed over and over again. The writer of Ecclesiastes sees this as the burden God has laid upon man, and he ain’t wrong. It is a burden alleviated by thrill-seeking but not eluded by it, and sadly thrill-seeking often ends with making the burden feel heavier.
But there is a further burden God has laid on man, and that is he has put eternity in our hearts. We are like caged birds, longing to soar and fly, yet being confined by time and space, reduced to picking and scratching and singing songs we can never follow in their flight.
Just before you give up on me, this is the condition Jesus accepted when he became flesh. If we want to find a way to meaning and purpose, we need to see through his eyes as he walked the earth and endured the burden of mortality. And his teaching continually refers to living for the day, living with simplicity, living obediently, but with hearts full of kingdom riches.
This is where I would recommend turning to Kathleen Norris and her exploration of ‘acedia’ – the spiritual torpor or apathy associated with repetitive monastic life but clearly experienced more widely. As a writer, she understands this from a creative point of view, and has discovered for herself that the cyclical burden of life has within it a wonderful potential to bear fruit. Here are some snatches of her book (my paraphrasing):
The sacramental is manifest in the ordinary – daily bread, daily prayer – there is sacramental possibility in all things. The daily rhythm of sunrise and sunset is a symbol of human hope. Creation is renewed every morning; even Creation itself was a daily process. Grace, like manna from heaven, is a ‘quotidian (daily) mystery’, i.e. it cannot be stored up for future use but is given at the time of need. We are all engaged in priestly work, in transformation, even in acts that seem futile to the world. It is in the routine and everyday we find the greatest possibilities for transformation.
And so we live faithfully the daily mystery, finding grace in daily bread, until we come to the day for which all creation longs when it will no longer be subjected to futility, but will be liberated into the glorious freedom of the children of God.