Sunday, August 12, 2012

Six Reasons to Bless the Quotidian

Weeding, watering, feeding, fetching, cooking, washing.

These are a smattering of the quotidian, the every day tasks that are therefore common and ordinary. They are the present, ongoing jobs that cease only when one draws final breath.

These daily demands frustrate, discourage and sometimes drive us writers to despair. Why can't we break our earthy bonds? Wouldn't it be far better, we wonder, if daily tasks were done once for all so that waking hours could be given to what we find useful, valuable? I think yes.

But Kathleen Norris taught me otherwise. Through The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and "Women's Work" she has uncovered the beauty--and indeed the need--for the quotidian. What good are they to a writer?

The domestic pins her to real life. Dailiness requires a writer to traffic in the concrete, the specific, always good fodder for fiction. Before sitting down to this entry I blanched dozens of Roma tomatoes picked just this morning. Now I know not only the shade of yellow that the tomato blossoms have given my favorite work shirt; I also know the tomatoes' tangy scent, the slip of boiled skins losing their grip and the pop of a core prised from a tomato's fleshy walls.

The mundane invites contemplation. Years ago I read Douglas Gresham's biography of C.S. Lewis. The author chronicled the frustration of Lewis's brother Warnie over the incessant interruptions of Mrs. Moore, the mother of a friend whom Lewis had promised to take into his care, should the need arise. It did, and Lewis was beckoned to her service almost hourly. I used to wonder what additional stories Lewis might have written if it weren't for Mrs. Moore. Now I wonder whether the stories that have shaped me would have come to be apart from Mrs. Moore. My guess is Lewis invited Mrs. Moore's demands to mold him and his stories.

Every day chores cultivate humility. They remind the writer of his finiteness. Although the day may seem to stretch long as a highway across Kansas, the work will not go on forever.  Fatigue visits daily and bids us lay our burdens down until the morning. The dark of night is a welcome cloak.

The ordinary cultivate thankfulness and dependence. To have the strength, to have the will, to have the mind to work, all are gifts of the present. And no task need be done alone. Christ is present in every moment to strengthen, to guide, to give courage to do the task again now.

The commonplace opens our eyes to see and savor the holy in the mundane. Washing a sink full of dishes reminds me that Christ my Husband washes me with the water of His Word. As I daily redress the wound I sustained from last weekend's short-but-exciting career in downhill mountain biking I remember that Christ gladly took far deeper wounds so that I am healed. Spreading clean, white linens on a bed gives me an idea of the pure white linen prepared to clothe all who belong to Christ.

The daily creates a thin place between heaven and earth. This thin place is where the temporal and the eternal overlap. Think of manna in the desert, the daily animal sacrifices that provided a covering for Israel's sin, the remembering of the Lord's sacrifice by the eating of bread and the drinking of wine, our Lord's teaching us to ask for daily bread and commanding His children to not worry about tomorrow since today is troubled enough.

Engaging the every day deepens a writer. The quotidian form him into a fuller person, enabling him to find common ground with every person he encounters, for no one who draws breath has slipped his earthy bonds.


  1. As usual, Renata, a very good post. A lot of things to think about. And while a focus on the mundane may bore the reader, the presence of it can enrichen the story, giving the writer the chance to capture a fine texture through experience that otherwise may be missed.

    Thanks again.


  2. Very encouraging, Renata!. I have a week coming up of yielding my writing to the mundane, and your post helped me to see and appreciate the value of it. Thanks!

  3. Oh, how I love this post! I get my best ideas while doing dishes and laundry!

  4. When you work retail, as I do, mundane seems to be a daily part of life...

  5. Nathaniel Hawthorne thought this would be true for him when he joined the communal Brook Farm experiment in the early 1840s. However, when his mundane chores were finished, he found he was too drained or distracted to write (and so he left). That's often true for me, too. . . :-(

  6. I agree, Millie, there is a limit. Too much writing can stress relationships and create chaos in the "real" world instead of an inspiration. Excessive quotidian - did I use it correctly - can leave us with nothing to give. I think most long-term writers find a balance, even if it seesaws. Well, I'm off to complete my quotidian - dishes, dusting, drying clothes, and bathing the dog. Then, I get to pick up my edited manuscript from a friend and try to use the new word I learned.