I am secure enough in my masculinity to tell you that I do a lot of the housework at our home.
It’s really not drudgery to me – it is freeing. So much of what I do as a pastor isn’t good for someone who is as Type A as I am – there aren’t instant results, you can get through a whole checklist some days and still feel like you’re getting nowhere, and some days your best laid plans are thwarted by one phone call or office visit. That’s the reality of pastoral work.
Cleaning the house is different. There are instant results. When the checklist is completed, your work is done for that week. You can sit down, pour yourself a cup of coffee (unless it’s later in the afternoon, when something else might be more appropriate), sit in a chair and admire your handiwork. Just like mowing the yard, you can tell where you’ve been and what you’ve accomplished. And, making something clean that was once dirty is very satisfying.
It was the tiniest book I had ever read: The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work”. It was actually a college lecture that Kathleen Norris had given several years ago. The book speaks of what it is to see the commonplace with “the eyes of the heart.” As one who is ordained, I was captivated by what she said when she was once at a Catholic mass. During the high liturgy and celebration of the Eucharist, it struck her that during the preparation and ablutions of the Table, the priest was basically doing the dishes (hey, another man doing “women’s work”!). Getting the vessels ready for the elements, cleaning the crumbs from the paten, finishing the wine, rinsing the chalice and wiping the inside of it with purificators... in essence, doing the dishes. While the liturgy left her disoriented in places, she noted that “eating and drinking were something I could understand. That and the housework.”
She goes on:
“Ironically, it seems that it is by the means of seemingly perfunctory daily rituals and routines that we enhance the personal relationships that nourish and sustain us.”
Some days, when I am doing the usual week of pastoral work: writing sermons, making hospital rounds, checking on those who are struggling, keeping up with facility construction, administration (you get the idea)… I have a hard time seeing God. Yet, in the ordinary routine of house and yard work, I realize that God is, and has been, present all along. I’m just too knuckleheaded to realize it.
I’ve gotten behind on housework of late, so this morning, I planned on getting up on the roof and cleaning the rain gutters out. It was a beautiful morning. I got the ladder positioned, started up my leaf blower, and began to ascend the ladder. When I got to the roofline, I stopped. I looked at the pitch of the roof and how my feet and ankles would be positioned. I thought about the kickback of the leaf blower… and I got scared. I’m not afraid of heights; heck, I used to be a firefighter and high-ropes/take-down rescuer. But my body just doesn’t cooperate anymore.
For the past few years, my arthritis has gotten worse. Doctors can’t decide if it’s osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. I have virtually no strength in my wrists and ankles anymore. Last Tuesday, I had nerve conduction tests (and I think John Wesley was certifiably nuts to have voluntarily electrified himself as much as he did). I take anti-inflammatories to keep inflammation down. I have prescriptions for pain meds when it gets really bad, but I rarely take them – I don’t like pain, but I hate being influenced by drugs even more.
Today was painful – physically, but more so mentally. I have cleaned gutters, climbed ladders, and walked on roofs all of my life. I realized today that I couldn’t do it anymore. I’m 43 years old; I’m not a spring chicken, but by no means am I ancient, either. It hurt my pride. I realized that I have more limitations than I used to. I’m gonna have to pay some kid to clean out my gutters.
After a brief pity party for myself… I recomposed. Centered my thoughts and prayers. And teared up – not out of frustration, but out of anger at myself. And it came to me, and I said to myself, “Silly Sky… God is still here. He’s still present. He still loves you. And He hasn’t forsaken you. Now go clean the inside of your house and get over this lament-and-bitch stuff.”
My house is clean. So is my body. And God is present. He already was… and He will be.