Commonplace: The Quotidian Mysteries

The subtitle to this tiny but thoughtful volume is “Laundry, Liturgy, and ‘Women’s Work.'” How is that for provocative?

This book, about a worshipful posture toward everyday living, was a timely read for me as I gear back up for a new school year and a plate full of quotidian opportunities!


Here were some of my favorite nuggets:

On being too busy for daily worship:

“Workaholism is the opposite of humility…when evening comes, I am so exhausted that vespers has become impossible. It is as if I have taken the world’s weight on my shoulders and am too greedy, and too foolish, to surrender it to God…

“I have come to believe that ween we despair of praise, when the owner of creation and our place in it are lost to us, it’s often because we’ve lost sight of our true role as creatures–we have tried to do too much, pretending to be in such control of things that we are indispensable. It’s a hedge against mortality and, if you’re like me, you take a kind of comfort in being busy. The danger is that we will come to feel too useful, so full of purpose and the necessity of fulfilling obligations that we lose sigh too God’s play with creation, and with ourselves.”

On the connection between liturgy and housework:

“Like liturgy, the work of cleaning draws much of its meaning and value from repetition, from the fact that it is never completed, but only set aside until the next day. Both liturgy and what is euphemistically called ‘domestic’ work also have an intense relation with the present moment, a kind of faith in the present that fosters hope and makes life seem possible in the day-to-day.”

On holiness in everyday life:

“I have come to believe that the true mystics of the quotidian are not those who contemplate holiness in isolation, reaching godlike illumination in serene silence, but those who manage to find God in a life filled with noise, the demands of other people and relentless daily duties that can consume the self…

“If they are wise, [the busy saint] will treasure the rare moments of solitude and silence that come their way, and use them not to escape, to distract themselves with television and the like. Instead, they listen for a sign of God’s presence and they open their hearts toward prayer.”

In summary:

“Laundry, liturgy, and women’s work all serve to ground us in the world, and they need not grind us down…

“Both worship and housework often seem perfunctory. And both, by the grace of God, may be anything but. At its Latin root, perfunctory means ‘to get through with,’ and we can easily see how liturgy, laundry, and what has traditionally been conceived as ‘women’s work’ can be done in that indifferent spirit. But the joke is on us: what we think we are only ‘getting through’ has the power to change us, just as we have the power to transform what seems meaningless–the endless repetitions of a litany of the motions of vacuuming a floor. What we dread as mindless activity can free us, mind and heart, for the workings of the Holy Spirit.”

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Surprised by Oxford (Carolyn Weber)

In a word: Rich

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I spoke a little bit about this book already, but it was too full of goodness to not get its own post. I picked this book up on the recommendation of a fellow book-lover, and it was definitely a right-time, right-book situation. I was coming off of a list of heavy books, and Surprised by Oxford was like a breath of fresh air.

Carolyn Weber (Caro) reflects back at her time at Oxford University where she was unexpectedly faced with the claims of Christianity. She had grown up knowing about God (ish), but she had never seriously considered the person of Jesus or the implications that knowing Him might have for her life. She believed that her ideals as a feminist and an intellectual were at odds with the teachings of the Bible. As she engages in conversations with professors and fellow students, she finds her heart stirred and her mind convinced that Jesus truly is who he says he is.

Caro is articulate and thoughtful and this book was a joy to read. She was getting her master’s degree in Romantic literature, so there are tons of quotes from Keats and Milton, and Coleridge mixed in with her own musings. She and her friends regularly quote poetry in the midst of their conversations, which is just delightful.

Just before going abroad on my scholarship, I came across an epigram by Alexander Pope, the the eighteenth-century English poet famous for his clever wit and urbane satire. Pope engraved the verse on the collar of a dog, which he then gifted the king:

I am his Highness’ Dog at Kew:
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?

Granted, the dog image is not as elegant or politically correct as some might prefer, but it does effectively beg the question: just who is your master? For we all have one. No individual, by the very state of existence, can avoid life as a form of servitude; it only remains for us to decide, deny, or remain oblivious to, whom or what we serve.

I did feel like this book was a little bit longer than I would have preferred (lots of nonfiction is!), and I admit that I skimmed a couple of chunks in the middle, but overall it was really great. If you enjoy rich, thoughtful non-fiction, this might be a good choice for you!