I’m exploring new metaphors for faith that are transforming my outlook. Last week, we talked about faith as a creative practice. Today, faith as housework.
For a long time, I felt ashamed of how routine my faith was. I felt ashamed that I could say a prayer without thinking about it too much, or read the Bible without deep study, or be in a worship service without soul transformation.
After I had kids, it only got worse. I spent most of my days juggling nap times, scrubbing toilets, changing diapers, or putting another load of laundry in to soak. I felt like my life was measured out in dirty spoons, and the real meaning happened after nap time and dishes and laundry and…well, never.
But a few months back, I was struck, when reading The Woman’s Bible Commentary, that in ancient times, ‘women’s work’ was part and parcel of the ritual community devotions of the Israelites. Even now, Orthodox women play a significant role in the life of faith through keeping dishes and meals kosher, preparing the house for Sabbath, and purifying themselves after menses.
In the past, I’ve had disdain for the God of Leviticus, who, fiddles over what cloth to wear and what ingredients to put in bread. But as Kathleen Norris puts it in her book on women’s work and God, The Quotidian Mysteries, that “ludicrous attention to detail… might be revisioned as the very love of God.”
As I sweep the floor and put stray forks in the dishwasher, spot clean my daughter’s pants and make sandwich after peanut butter sandwich, I make love manifest. I make care and comfort tangible.
And then there’s the beauty of order, of a daily rhythm that cares for bodies and physical needs. There’s the skill I’ve practiced for twelve years of marriage and eight years of parenthood.
Housework is useful and loving. It’s not sexy, but neither is sex if you look at it in a certain way. Why couldn’t the mundane details of faith, the prayers that stretch into sameness, the weekly trek to church or small group be imbued with the transcendent light of holiness? I do not need fireworks in my chest every day to know that the Holy of Holies has made my heart his home.
What if housework were caring for that Holiness?
Caring for people and house and myself, the rhythm of cleanliness and food and brushing teeth is its own dance. It is just as solemn and beautiful as the march of stars across the sky. It is older and more elemental than most of the things we worry about, and is a rhythm we share with brothers and sisters around the globe. Like prayer, housework is close to our hearts.
I think it’s telling that we live in a society that denigrates this humble offering of order.
I love a faith that does not need to be lofty. That concerns itself with mundane details that give our lives dignity. I love a faith that expresses the beauty of small things and daily experiences. I need a faith that is connected to my body, to my need and hunger and sickness and health, that speaks to the reality of dirty diapers and the relentless fuzziness of dust.
I will affirm, that much as I hate washing them, that cleaning windows to let the light shine through is a beautiful an act of worship.
Image credit: Steve Evans
Trying to approach the Bible with fresh eyes and new metaphors? Check out my new journal: Unquiet Time: A devotional for the rest of us.