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Holiness of House Work :)

As soon as my friends and family stop laughing that I am writing anything about this subject, we can begin in earnest, Gentle Reader…

Well, never mind then. We will just go on anyway. I deserve it, I know. If cleanliness is next to godliness then I had better meditate on Philippians 2:12,b EVERY DAY! My step dad, Tom’s reaction to my writing this was, “OK, you got guts!”

Actually I enjoy housework. It’s just that with my ADD (I believe I mentioned it to you before a time or two) it is very hard for me to stay on task and to be consistent or  plan my work very well. This is called a lack of executive function, I believe. Also I have trouble practicing habits that make it so I don’t have to play bulldozer when I do clean (that’s called being a bit of a slob I believe.) I am quite likely, as my witnesses know, to pick up a book to put it away and suddenly  realize I’ve been sitting on the floor reading it a good while, or to start a grand project and then find myself staring out of the window thinking of my next “hum” in Pooh-Bear fashion.

I’m not lazy. I like hard work. My last job was in the press room at the local newspaper, which was very hard physical work. I loved it. So work is not the problem. As long as I am not distracted or confused, I will be fine. An overwhelmingly  messy laundry room, however, causes a kind of short in my circuits that makes me gaze unseeing or become instantly distracted. OK, maybe I run away.

My difficulties confessed, I do think I have something to say about housework and its sacredness. I may even offer some advice for other ADD and AD/HD sufferers or people with small children and/or busy schedules (or maybe just anyone!) that might not be so out of line about getting a modest amount of work done in a prayerful way.

My house is clean right now. Roise was slightly helpful in the way that a mopey 15-year old can be when she really wants her friend over, and Mom has said, “Not until this house doesn’t know what hit it!” Still it was mostly myself working on this goal. Roise took a few Facebook breaks as mopey teen agers will.

When my kids were small, I used to go with them one room at a time to work with them side by side. We used to offer up our work in each room for a different prayer intention. Maire, at age 7, usually offered her room cleaning for Brittany Spears. She was always worried about her. When we finished a room, we bowed, before lighting some incense in the clean room; a ritual we got from their dad, Marc Blaze, that added a sense of completeness and made our work feel sacred.

My second late husband, Bob, taught me a lot about the holiness of work around the house and of conscious service to the family. He said this was part of what he called  his “skin religion.” He said his work in the yard, for instance, was a form of prayer. He was mindful, as he mowed the lawn, picturing Maire and Roise’s bare feet on the grass and how nice he was making it for them, how soft it would feel on their feet. He said he wanted us to look around and see the things he had done for us around our house and feel like each one was an “I love you,” from Bob.

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House work and yard work seemed to open him to the “sacrament of the present moment” * and to fill him with love.

We do look around and see his “love notes” all around us. One can hardly look anywhere and not see something he did for us.

I was at Bob’s side a lot of the time as we painted our house the exact blue of my sister-in-law, Jamie’s, eyes. I felt a sense of loving gratitude toward my house as we painted and like I was getting to know our house better. We thought about how meaningful it was to be painting this house that had been drab, dirty white for so many years. We were covering it with brightness like a metaphor for how colorful our lives were now that we were together and so happy after so many years of loneliness for both of us. It felt like an act of gratitude and a recognition of the sacredness of our home. Later Bob made me a painting of our house shaped like a heart with the two of us contemplating it. We went on to paint the garage green and to put in a pink antique front door.

When I wash my mixing bowls, which belonged to my granny and then to my mom and now to me, I have a sense of being close to them, and that those bowls are holy. So are all the dishes on which I feed my family and all those who come to my house as guests. Cooking is holy too. The Sufis believe food cooked with love, especially by your parents, carries a special blessing- which indeed it does. We should always try to cook with love. My mom did.

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painting by Robert Chapman “Breakfast Please”

I have a few habits when I am working around the house that help me stay in tune with the holy and remind me that my housework is not only an offering but it can be an adoration of the Lord who is continuously present with us in all we do. I know it’s weird but I have a tendency to pause and genuflect now and then in the kitchen. Bob used to ask why I did “church stuff in the house.” I said I was just praying while I worked. He understood that.

My Carmelite Community has a “Day of Recollection” each December.  One time the Holy Cross Brother leading us in our day asked us what we imagined ourselves doing as holy people, as we are all called to sainthood. What did we see ourselves actually doing? He said he saw himself writing. I was surprised that I saw myself sweeping the floor. Well! That’s already true. I could think that’s pretty disappointing, or I could think that is worth pondering. Maybe God is telling me to find Him in these things I am always having to do anyway. It is true that He has given me some great moments of insight and growth in the middle of a daily task like sweeping the floor or folding laundry.

This sense of love and holiness involved in caring for my house makes me more mindful of each task and even makes me handle material objects with a loving gentleness more like I would if I were putting the vessels of the alter away, were I to be doing that. I do sometimes feel an infusion of love and awareness of  God’s presence when I am engaged in simple tasks.

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So why is it so hard for me to be consistent, to get started on a project and stay with it? You remember. I’m terribly ADD.

If you are too, or have young children, or are otherwise busy and pre-occupied, here are some things I do to get myself through an afternoon of housework and grow in the awareness of God’s presence at the same time. Maybe you have some tips for me, too. I bet you do.

First, Roise and I ask the prayers of St. Anne, the patroness of our house, as well as patroness of house wives. This is her house so I ask her to pray for me while I clean. Sometimes, if I am badly distracted or overwhelmed, I lay a novena to her out on the kitchen table and set the oven timer for 30 minute increments. I will stop and pray another “day” of the novena each time the timer goes off. It keeps me going.

Also I trick myself.  I tell myself I am only going to fold five towels (when I have a huge, intimidating pile of laundry) and then I’m quitting. Once I get going, it is not an unpleasant task so I keep going. Anyway, it fascinates my cats.

The timer is also useful for seeing what I can get done in 15 minutes. My house used to be a duplex and my dear friend, Andrea, lived on the other side. One of us would watch our kids in the back yard for 15 minutes while the other rushed around her house to see what she could get done in that much time. We were amazed at how well this worked and how much we got done in such a short, focussed period. Both of us still do that sometimes even now; set the timer for 15 minutes and see what we can accomplish.

It’s hard for me to stay on task so one thing I do is follow a rule that it doesn’t matter what I do as long as I don’t stop doing things, just keep moving  and bringing myself back to housework like I bring my mind back to prayer when I get distracted. Audio books help me a lot too. They get me to stay in the room, and if I’m caught up in St. Julian of Norwich the work is a breeze; I’ll stay right with it and listening to her could only increase my consciousness of being immersed in the Source of all Good. Holy music can help with this too, though I like Metallica for mopping.

I saw a painting  of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, in which she is washing dishes and holding up a dinner plate like an offering. I liked that picture a lot. It expresses well what I am trying to do.

Brother Lawrence, author of The Practice of the Presence of God, said that he felt just as close to God when he flipped an omelet for love of Him as he did on his knees in chapel as if there was no difference. As St. Teresa of Jesus said, “God moves among the pots and pans.”

That he does. Finding Him and hanging out with him there is what I’m working on a lot lately; even if I have to trick myself to get started.

Laugh. It’s OK. I don’t mind. 🙂

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“Father, may everything we do begin with Your inspiration and continue with Your saving help. Let our work always find its origin in You, and through You reach completion.” (from the Liturgy of the Hours Monday Morning Week I)

“You who work in this house…. Mary counts your steps and your labors.” ~ Sister Miriam of Jesus Crucified

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Potholes along the path of prayer and what to do about them

I have been writing about the Prayer of Recollection.  If you have begun and continue to practice this prayer consistently, you may have noticed some things; maybe some potholes along the path; maybe some flowers, too. How we respond to each of these will be important for our growth in prayer.

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One of these, as I mentioned before, are distractions. Again, I want to emphasize that distractions are normal, and to some extent, in the work of prayer, we will always have them. It’s important not to be mad at yourself about distractions in prayer. They are what the human mind does. In this prayer, we are training the mind to remain with God in a conscious, continual way for a time, so that we might grow in intimacy, love, and knowledge of the Lord, the “Friend who we know loves us,” as St. Teresa of Avila calls Him.

Our Friend knows our minds are unruly, that we are anxious and worried about many things. He knows. You have chosen the better part, though, and it will not be taken from you. He will complete the good work He has begun in you. He Himself will fight for you. You have only to remain still.

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So when distractions come, recognize them, and gently bring yourself back to the presence of the Lord, over and over again. I promise it gets easier as your mind comes more under control with practice. And God will give you strength.

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Another pothole along the road of prayer is aptly called aridity, or dryness. Prayer starts to feel like reading the phone book. Remember that St. John of the Cross teaches us  that prayer is the secret, quiet inflow of God. Sometimes that quiet inflow is even secret to ourselves. It feels like nothing is happening, or that prayer is painful and empty. This is when we go on trusting that God is in us and working in us whether we have any sense of that or not. As I am fond of saying, the quality of our prayer, and God’s power to work His will in us is not limited by our personal perception or experience of how “well” prayer is going. Do tell God how you feel and ask Him for what you need. St. Teresa said we need determined determination to continue on the Royal Road of prayer. I think of it as the dogged pursuit of God in prayer. The mystics of our faith say that God deepens our prayer and blesses us all the more for our faithfulness and love for Him in times of aridity. Be strong and take heart. God is with you.

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The opposites of dry spells in prayer are usually called consolations. You may sometimes feel a deep sense of peace and joy when you pray, intense love or even feelings of euphoria. You may experience the sensible closeness or touch of God on your soul. You may receive flashes of understanding or the unravelling of a difficulty. There is nothing wrong with these things. Carmelite wisdom says enjoy them while they last, but don’t try to cling to them or perpetuate them. Understand that these experiences come and go. Try to be peaceful and accepting when they stop. These are wonderful gifts. They draw us closer to God within and away from outward show. God gives us this sweetness from time to time. Consolations can be very healing and inspiring. When these good things are withdrawn, though, we need to allow them to go easily. Simply continue the prayer, with your focus on the Giver. In this way, you will be learning to love Him more and more for Who He is in Himself, whatever He gives or does not give.

When consolations come, then, just smile, be thankful, receive. Then let go as easily as a breath. Keep loving, keep praying, keep present. If we practice this easiness about the presence or absence of consolations, our prayer life grows immeasurably.

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As Our Lord said to St. Angela of Foligno, “Make of yourself a capacity and I will make of Myself a torrent.” 

He’s kind of sneaky so His torrent could feel any number of ways to us. But if we persevere in prayer, we will see the fruits of it in what Gandhi called “the total transformation of character, conduct, and consciousness.” These are the fruits of the life of prayer.

All God wants of man, is a peaceful heart. ~ Miester Ekhart

If we dispose ourselves to Him, in the way St. Teresa has taught us, and we don’t give up, then He will surely come to us, and we will grow in awareness of His indwelling.

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