In her book, A Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle speaks about the daily workings of life at her farmhouse Crosswicks. Since we moved to a farm four years ago, and I’ve taken on all sorts of new tasks like canning and preserving food and raising chickens, I found a kindred spirit in her musings on housework and the need for her own quiet spaces:
“Cooking is the only part of housekeeping I manage with any grace; it’s something like writing a book: you look in the refrigerator and see what’s there, choose all the ingredients you need, and a few your husband thinks you don’t need, and put them all together to concoct a dish. Vacuum cleaners are simply something for me to trip over…the sight of a meal’s worth of dirty dishes, pots and pans makes me want to run in the other direction. Every so often I need OUT… My special place is a small brook in a green glade, a circle of quiet from which there is no visible sign of human beings… I sit for a while, then my impatience, crossness, frustration, are indeed annihilated, and my sense of humor returns.”[i]
Like L’Engle, dishes are the absolute bane of my existence. Every day after lunch, I look over to my kitchen counters filled with dishes since the evening before and I give myself a pep-talk. I can do this. But perhaps I need a nap first.
Many times, I have longed to find my own circle of quiet. There are places that I’ve considered: a bend in the creek when I’ve waded in the middle of the miserable summer heat, a small cemetery where daffodils are the first sign that it’s time to take the mulch off the strawberries, the path up to Blueberry Hill just before it curves and opens up to the rows of fruit. I’ve found that the space itself is not lacking, only the quiet. A mother of young children has few moments of quiet.
But what I am learning is that the work of mothering and housekeeping itself can offer me a liturgical space, not necessarily for quiet but for contentment. In the Episcopal and Lutheran churches I’ve attended over the years, the liturgy seems designed not for comfort and routine but for struggle and challenge. A worshipper often knows what to say and what to expect from a service, but if she is present, the knowing offers an opening between the expected words for God to move inside of her.
This is what I am learning as I wash dishes, cook meals, preserve food, sweep the same dust out of the same spot for the umpteenth time and rinse out diapers in the toilet. Sometimes these tasks seem impossible, infuriating, unbearable. Sometimes they are easy. But because they are always the same, I have the opportunity to focus my imagination between those ritual and seemingly mundane moments and find joy and gratitude in serving and providing and doing good things.
Sometimes it is Martha work but I can try to be Mary at the same time and sit at Jesus’ feet while I make him a meal.
[i] L’Engle, Madeleine, A Circle of Quiet, Harper Collins, New York, 1972, pg 3-4.
Christiana is the manager of this collaborative blog. She has postgrad degrees in theology and creative writing from St Andrews University in Scotland. She lives with her family in intentional Christian community in rural Illinois. While her husband farm manages, she writes, sings, gardens, cares for their two kiddos, cooks, preserves food and attempts to homemake. She also blogs atthebeautyofthishour.wordpress.com.