I can’t recall how I first heard of Kathleen Norris’s slim volume The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women’s Work. (And by “slim,” I mean slim: 88 pages, five dollars.) I can’t remember not being acquainted with its truths, both because Norris was the first to put my own inarticulate thoughts into words, and because I’ve so thoroughly adopted her concepts as my own.
“Quotidian” means “ordinary,” or “everyday,” and in this work Norris addresses the inherent worth of the mundane tasks that consume our everyday–the cooking, the cleaning, the dishes, the diapering. “What is it about repetitive acts that makes us feel that we are wasting our time?” Norris asks.
I don’t know what it is, but I feel it.
While I’m tempted to dismiss my daily routines as trivial, Norris insists they are anything but. Whatever we repeatedly do has the power to shape us, whether or not we mean for it to do so. She speaks of the power of embracing simple things like walking, baking bread, washing dishes.
These mundane activities suit the rhythms of our bodies and ground us physically in the everyday. (A favorite quote: “In dishwashing, I approach the moral realm; there are days when it seems a miracle to be able to make dirty things clean.” It reminds me of Anne of Green Gables.)
My life is full (though I hate to use the word “busy”). I’m focused on my productivity, and to enhance it, I outsource certain household tasks. But Norris articulates my vague unease about why I’m uncomfortable outsourcing all of it–the errands, the cleaning, the cookery. These tasks–though inarguably small–require human rhythms, invite contemplation, and ground us in our lives.
Norris isn’t advocating for the quotidian to replace my perceived “more important” tasks, but she does argue for the value of anything done in the service of those I love–or at least anything I do when my heart (and I don’t say this lightly) is in the right place.
Share your love for–or hatred of–the daily grind, Kathleen Norris, and all things quotidian in comments. (Is this a new book to you?)
Books mentioned in this post: