by Kathleen Norris
I re-read this book not long ago with my book group and was glad to return to Kathleen Norris’s voice after some years away. I found many touchstones to lead my thoughts and prayers as I read. In this slim book of personal narrative & essays, Norris reflects on the nature of the ordinary, routine maybe even mediocre parts of our lives. And that these simple things own transcendent value–that daily bread is more than sustenance for our body, it also provides for the soul.
I recently overheard a comment from a woman who, on her husband ‘s retirement, expressed great relief at not having to iron his shirts anymore. Her mother had told her that ironing your husband’s shirts showed how much you love him. I thought of this as I was ironing one of NB’s shirts not long after starting this book. While I probably don’t want to be judged by my ironing (or lack of it), it does seems that such acts communicate love in ways that gifts or words do not (“Acts of Service” I think they are called in the 5 Love Languages book). Faithfulness in the daily routine demonstrates a commitment beyond the highs–where loving comes easy–and maybe even beyond the lows–when loving is vital for survival. Loving in the daily routine of life is the wholesome love of another. How deep is the love that will repeat the tasks of washing, cooking, cleaning, etc. These tasks honor not only our own embodied lives, but those of the ones we love.
All of this seems to dovetail into some of Norris’s thoughts about the repetitive nature of our daily life. Is this part of humanity’s Fall? Maybe, but maybe it is just the curse to take it for granted. I have found gratitude is a powerful way to foster this kind of daily love. Saying thank you for the simple things like taking out the trash or putting up the laundry, especially when I don’t feel much gratitude in my heart, has a way of turning my heart to toward the gift that is being given through that action and the giver who offers it.
“Worship grounds me in the real world of God’s creation, dislodging me from whatever world I have imagined for myself.” (p. 26) Liturgy is a very grounding act. In my most desperate, angry times with God, the Liturgy was a way for me to remember & speak truth even though I wasn’t really sure that I believed it. It is good to see renewed interest in liturgy among evangelicals and recognition that it has power beyond the rote. I confess that I weep sometimes when reciting the apostles creed because it is such a solid expression of truth. “As for the words that I am dutifully saying, I might as well be praying in tongues, and maybe I am. Maybe the prayer is working despite myself.” (p. 82)
Rhythms of daily living are so important to healthy living, which is very evident in the lives of children. Children who do not have routines are not as grounded as those who do. Yet we miss for ourselves as adults. I recently heard a self-help segment discuss the fact that adults should consider nighttime rituals as you would for a child to help get to sleep. One of the hardest things about my life in this time of “temporary relocation” is the lack of rhythm from week to week. For me, the spiritual and physical disciplines are so much easier when my life has a rhythm. When returning from back to back trips, sorting the laundry and planning dinner are a bit wearisome, but I also ache to do it. They somehow make me feel more human than getting on airplanes or eating out. All of which makes me think that the daily work is not a curse but a blessing as our daily bread. The sin is not recognizing the gift that it is. “It is not special, but absolutely ordinary. And that, too, is grace.” (p. 66) Maybe the word to capture the thought is not mediocre, but ordinary–we all long for the wholeness of ordinary lives.