This morning I went to pray, something I will confess I do not do enough, when I noticed how messy the area around my family altar was. There was a vacuum cleaner under Augustine, a basket of things for Goodwill hanging out under St. George, and to the right of Nona a bunch of crap that my kids left in the hallway and never picked up. Looking at the picture I snapped of it all, I just noticed a crack in the wall. I wonder how that got there. It was probably the kids, though I am sure none of them will have any idea how that happened.
I thought about cleaning up the mess before I prayed, but there is something about the vacuum cleaner and Goodwill basket being part of that space that seemed right. In her book The Quotidian Mysteries Kathleen Norris talks about finding spiritual meaning in the ordinary. Housework itself can become an act of prayer. I have tried to remember this as I pick up after my children. It is very easy for me to bark at them about the messes they leave about, or worse yet to make them feel guilty. “You say you shouldn’t have to pick up a mess you didn’t make, but I pick up messes I didn’t make all the time.” Poor me. Dad the housekeeping martyr. At times I have found myself thinking, “If you loved me, you wouldn’t do this.” I am not proud of those thoughts, but they come at times when I am feeling sorry for myself. Lately I have been trying to reverse it, thinking, “I love you, and so I am doing this.”
I pick my daughter’s boots up off the floor and chuck them into her room and quietly pray, “I love you.”
I pick up the scattered candy wrappers my son left in my favorite chair. “I love you.”
I empty Gallifrey’s cat box, a job they promised to do when I agreed to adopt him.“I love you.”
I pick up my youngest’s bowl of milk leftover from his morning cereal, milk I keep asking him to drink so it doesn’t go to waste.“I love you.”
Yesterday we read from the Gospels about Jesus saying to take up our cross and follow him. A litter box is not a cross, not even close. Christianity demands sacrifice. One must die to one’s pettiness. There is no salvation without sacrificing the inner child, much like how Abraham laid Isaac upon the altar, killing him in his heart before he could receive him back. If I cannot raise the knife above the whiny brat in my own heart, then there is no hope for me. The kingdom of God is not for the petulant. Or on second thought, maybe it is. Jesus said we must come to him as a child, did he not? So perhaps there is hope for me yet. Perhaps God treats us the way I know I should treat my children. We leave our stuff lying around, we make cracks in creation, and God says to us, “I love you.”
That is why I chose to leave the crap lying around my family altar. Prayer is messy, just like life. Prayer is not about a presentation of artificial cleanliness. Prayer is, so to speak, ugly. Or at least it is not always pretty. Prayer is interrupted by our children, our spouses, or our own thoughts. Though we pray in the church about setting aside “all earthly cares” before we receive Communion, I cannot help but hear that prayer with a kind of irony. More often than not we are unable to lay aside our cares. We have to push through them, like a child pushing its way through a crowd of grownups, hoping we do not get lost along the way.
So I left those cares right in front of my face this morning. I have to vacuum the living room tonight, and I really do need to remember to take the stuff from that basket to the thrift store. I will do all that later…or, to be honest, I may not. All that quotidian stuff that is a part of my household is also a part of my prayer life; it is part of what I must learn to make a living sacrificing, laying it, like Isaac, upon the altar of my own petulant heart.
I tweet stuff like this, and other quotidian things, at @DrDavidJDunn. Thanks for following and sharing.