The daily activities that fill most of our time can seem unimportant. We often get aggravated doing them, which is strange because tasks such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, and sleeping are absolutely necessary for life and health. The rhythm of household tending simultaneously feeds the bodies and souls gathered within our homes, including our own. No false fracturing of the two. This in and of itself is a miracle in our post-modern age. And a grace.
There is a wonderful French word for “every day” or “daily” – quotidien. I love this word because to my American ear it seems to imbue common tasks with the graceful beauty and higher calling I believe they have. I’m thinking about French words and daily life because of a lovely memoir I’m reading – Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik. Lately, a statement of Gopnik’s has lingered in my thoughts.
Yet life is mostly lived by timid bodies at home, and since we see life as deeply in our pleasures as in our pains, we see the differences in lives as deeply there too.
The idea that our daily home lives illuminate our pleasures and pains, our similarities and differences strikes me as true. But, my thoughts spin in a different direction. Rather than timid rituals are not quotidien rhythms able to provide delight, solace, and strength? Last week I mourned my sister’s moving away, but my spirit was comforted by cooking and cleaning. That’s when I was able to feel my emotions, make sense of my thoughts, and make peace in rhythms that no longer included her daily presence.
Rising from bed, preparing meals, tending children, or washing clothes are common every day acts that provide the foundation from which we can dare greatly, love deeply, and get messy in the harder parts of life. I think of these chores as common only in the sense that we all do them. They are every day acts we hold in common. The same way we talk about God’s common graces of creation and conscience. It would be profane to speak of those holy, universal miracles as ordinary or unremarkable. They are awe inspiring and renewed every morning. We are all blessed by them. The fact that God has revealed yet more of Himself should never cheapen the inviolable graces of creation and conscience. The fact that we repeat quotidien work should not strip it of dignity or value.
For a weary mother the quotidian responsibility of loving and tending her children is also an extraordinary act of faith. At least it is for me. But, I needed a 17th-century French monk to help me see it that way.
The time of business does not differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.
– Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
These words forever changed my perspective. Quotidien chores became meditations. Now, I view waking, walking, coffee drinking, reading, learning, thinking, sharing, cooking, eating, working, shopping, correcting, resting, and repeating as common and sacred.
On this morning’s daily walk, I recalled one of my favorite NYC spots – Le Pain Quotidien, which means the daily bread. Even though there are numerous locations throughout the city and the world, Le Pain Quotidien is a simple Belgium bakery with homemade fare and a warm, inviting atmosphere. For those very reasons, it provides sustenance and sanctuary. Last fall, I needed such a place to sort through conflicting emotions. I’d taken a walk in Central Park to clear my head. By Providence, I came upon a new Le Pain Quotidien location right along my path. I ducked inside for a bowl of vegetable soup with a slab of crusty bread. I sat outside in the courtyard surrounded by large families, who were laughing and lingering over extended lunches and glasses of wine.
As the fall afternoon faded, the air became chillier, but my weary spirit was warmed, restored, and readied for the challenges ahead, which seems to be the deeper purposes for daily work, rest, and bread. Grâce pour quotidien. Grace for everyday.