I have lately been telling people I am "struggling with mortality," then quickly say, "Actually, not with death so much as just day-in, day-out existence." Get up. Urinate. Wash hands. Shave. Brush teeth. Shower. Defecate. Wash hands. Get kids ready for school. Remind kids to brush teeth and hair. Get kids to school. Go to work. Work. Go grocery shopping. Make kids do homework. Police sibling fights. Mete out discipline. Wash hands. Cook. Eat. Clean up. Get kids ready for bed. Get ready for bed myself. Repeat daily. Add laundry on the weekends; mowing the yard in the summer. You know the drill. The daily grind. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over...
Or to make things more Biblical, how 'bout some Ecclesiastes to cheer us up?
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless."
What does man gain from all his labor
at which he toils under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
"Look! This is something new"?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
There is no remembrance of men of old,
and even those who are yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow.
I've been here before and the word that summarizes all this is quotidian:
The term "quotidian" derives from the Latin word for "daily" and refers to repetitive daily actions, events or routines — yet in typical usage carries a vaguely negative overtone. "Quotidian" is generally used to convey a sense of the mundane; that is, there is an implication of the 'commonplace' — often in the disparaging sense, and at the very least to indicate that there is nothing unexpected or surprising to be found in things quotidian.
And yet it is the very nature of life that we must find meaning in the quotidian or there is really no meaning at all. Buddhists get this. So did Brother Lawrence. The contemplative Christian orders understand. A few years ago during a similar period I read Kathleen Norris's The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and "Women's Work". I love her work, and as always she had something worthwhile to say that wasn't just the usual take on things. I may not like much poetry but I like how poets view the world. Leafing through that book this morning I notice pages I dog-eared then to remind the future me now of some important truths:
As a human being, Jesus Christ was as subject to the daily as any of us. And I see both the miracle of manna and incarnation of Jesus Christ as scandals. They suggest that God is intimately concerned with our very bodies and their needs, and I doubt that this is really what we want to hear. Our bodies fail us, they grow old, flabby and feeble, and eventually they lead us to the cross. How tempting it is to disdain what God has created, and to retreat into a comfortable gnosticism.
- page 11
The often heard lament, "I have so little time," gives the lie to the delusion that the daily is of little significance. Everyone has exactly the same amount of time, the same twenty-four hours in which many a weary voice has uttered the gospel truth: "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" (Mt 6:34, KJV). But most of us, most of the time, take for granted what is closest to us and is most universal. The daily round of sunrise and sunset, for example, that marks the coming and passing of each day, is no longer a symbol of human hopes, or of God's majesty, but a grind, something we must grit our teeth to endure.
- pages 16-17
Modern psychology does not always know what to make of mystery, but it is in agreement with the psychology of the ancient desert monastics in recognizing that depression is often the flip side of anger. What we perceive as dejection over the futility of life is sometimes greed, which the monastic tradition perceives as rooted in a fear of being vulnerable in a future old age, so that one hoards possessions in the present. But most often our depression is unexpressed anger, and it manifests itself as the sloth of disobedience, a refusal to keep up the daily practices that would keep us in good relationship to God and to each other. For when people allow anger to build up inside, they begin to perform daily tasks resentfully, focusing on others as the source of their troubles. Instead of looking inward to find the true reason for their sadness - with me, it is usually a fear of losing an illusory control - they direct it outward, barreling through the world, impatient and even brutal with those they encounter, especially those who are closest to them. I recognize all of these stages in myself and I know that there are some days when unspecific anger makes me of little use to anyone. The popular faith in "talking it out" is counterproductive; if I bristle with irritability, especially if my anger seems out of proportion to any cause, depression is my real enemy. And talking about it is the last thing I need to do. It either leads me to rant, or it allows self-pity to surface, sending the poison deeper within.
- pages 42-43
I have come to believe that the true mystics of the quotidian are not those who contemplate holiness in isolation, reaching godlike illumination in serene silence, but those who manage to find God in a life filled with noise, the demands of other people and relentless daily duties that can consume the self. They may be young parents juggling child-rearing and making a living; they may be monks or nuns in a small community who have to wear three or four "hats" because there are more jobs to fill than people to fill them. If they are wise, they treasure the rare moments of solitude and silence that come their way, and use them not to escape, to distract themselves with television and the like. Instead, they listen for a sign of God's presence and they open their hearts toward prayer.
- page 70
And there are no promises, other than the love of God, to tell us that this human round is anything but futile.
- page 86
Time to go brush my teeth, shave and shower, so I can then finish the laundry and mow the lawn. :o)
So, do you struggle with the quotidian?