Last week’s musings got me thinking about housework and spirituality. I’ve spent a lot of time recently managing chaos – filing papers, answering emails, washing dishes, walking and rewalking the dog. I tread water pretty well, because I’m a naturally organized neatnik-y kind of person. But there’s nothing terribly spiritual about it all, my recent readings of Brother Lawrence notwithstanding. What’s the larger point?
I have a small family that keeps a smallish (by American standards, anyway) home. A stay-at-home mom I know who manages five active kids and a massive suburban household once literally threw in the towel and did no chores for three days. “It wasn’t just that I felt totally unappreciated in all of the cooking, cleaning, shopping, and driving,” she confided. “It was that all those chores would have to be repeated again so soon that there was never any real break from them.” She would weed the garden one day, then look out the next to see new weeds pop out their heads to taunt her. Once, her son sprinted through the house in muddy soccer cleats immediately after she had cleaned the carpets. It seemed an endless round: rinse, lather, repeat.
However, her family didn’t appear to notice her labor strike, and even enjoyed the novelty of takeout pizza on paper plates. On the third day she rose from the recliner chair, alive with the epiphany that she minded a messy and chaotic house even if they did not.
The round of regular daily chores doesn’t even take into account the reality of how often things fall apart. We recently spent a nice chunk of change to upgrade our chimney, which had no cap. Stan, the ex-hippie fireplace guy we found through Angie’s List, has explained to me that there was nothing to prevent a bird from swooping down the open chimney into our living room to watch TV with us. Squirrels, too. A whole menagerie of animals could gatecrash our domestic bliss to catch up on Dancing with the Stars, and Stan didn’t want that to happen to us. Such a nice family.
And if the cycle of regular chores and irregular maintenance seems daunting even for folks in the middle classes, what is it like for poor people who are trying to cull meals out of very few ingredients and re-make their clothes so they can squeeze a bit more wear out of them? When I was researching Flunking Sainthood, I felt it was a bit much for saints like Brother Lawrence to come round and tell the poor that they need to do all these acts because they are motivated by the pure love of God, rather than the very human instinct to bar the wolf from the door.
Unlike Brother Lawrence, I think that God, too, does chores in order to bar the wolf from the door. The opening chapter of Genesis shows God practically yanking forth order from chaos. The earth was “formless and empty,” and of course we can’t have that. So the first thing God does is separate light from darkness. Any professional organizer would approve: Light goes in this drawer. Darkness in that one. Throughout Genesis 1 there is a sense of impending chaos, of waters threatening to overcome the fledgling creation. So sky goes in this drawer, water in that other. The deluge must be contained, and God gets bonus points for having a giant divine labelmaker that can spit out the label “WATER.” Naming and organizing are powerful acts.
Hello, entropy, my old friend. I’m trying to appreciate you again.
Image of cleaning sponges used by permission of Shutterstock.com.