catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 24 :: 2005.12.30 — 2006.01.12


The case for the quotidian

Time is elastic; depending on whether we are suffering a tragedy or we are fulfilled in all aspects of life, the weeks might drag on or fly by. If we’ve been broken up with, been in a fender-bender, failed in a project at work, or waited for test results from the doctor, the minute hand on the clock can seem immobile. We want to move past the pain, the guilt, the embarrassment, the feelings of unworthiness, the apprehension—but healing takes time. The more we wish to accelerate time, the slower it seems to be. Whereas when life is good, when we are healed and whole, time slips more easily through our fingers. We are apt to sail through the dull meetings and dirty dishes without feeling their weight on our schedule.

There’s a reason that ordinary tasks are called mundane, and much of it has to do with this elasticity of time. When we are depressed or hurting, it can take all of our energy just to deal with paying the bills and mowing the lawn. With the pace of our life slowed, it can be easy to imagine life stretching before us as nothing but a series of drudgeries. When we are contented, the ordinary moments either go unnoticed or simply don’t make our mental highlight reel of our day. The daily tasks are a distraction from the special and unique moments that compose our happy life. In fact, success and riches are often equated with finding someone to do the drudgeries for us, to make more room for what fulfills us.

This summer I was talking with a cousin of mine who couldn’t understand why I spend so much time writing about the mundane. People want happy moments, exciting moments, transporting moments, he said. Conventional wisdom will tell you that life is about escaping the mundane, not entering into it. But I do not see the movement from sorrow to joy as one of learning to ignore and palm off the ordinary moments. I see the movement from joy to sorrow as one of being reintroduced to the basic building blocks of life—eating, sleeping, laundry, driving, reading, cooking, praying. Each time we face tragedy, we are forced to examine these basic human needs with the benefit of slowed time. We are given the chance to focus on these ordinary tasks with all of our attention, to reinvigorate our connection with the daily. The healing process is one of aligning those mundane moments into a solid foundation on which we can build back toward joy.

If God sometimes works in mysterious ways, God also works in very consistent and plain ways. At times God might swoop in with a chariot of fire, but at most times God asks us to meditate on his word day and night, to pray continually, to sing, to live in community—boring stuff, not very dramatic, but it works. When we have invested in strengthening the basic habits of our relationship with God, then we can weather the rejection, frustration, and heartache that comes our way. When all is stripped from us and all we have is the energy to wake up, eat breakfast, go to work, and drive home, then we will not be alone. If God has already met you in these moments, if you have learned to talk with him “when you are at home and when you are away on a journey, when you are lying down and when you are getting up again,” as Deuteronomy 6 says, then you are not really stripped of anything but clutter.

I’ve spent many years pursuing a variety of interests—sports, education, collecting, cooking, movies, writing, business, politics, photography, gleaning. Whenever I am heavily into one of these pursuits, whenever I feel most fulfilled in them, there comes a moment when I am talking to friends and I can see all over their faces that they have no connection to what I’m talking about. The more I specialize, the less I connect to people. But the more I talk about the daily, ordinary things—driving, eating, shopping, sleeping, working—the more people want to jump in. We each have a story to tell; we each connect to what others are going through. Our specializations are what make us unique and interesting, but it’s the universal language of the mundane that makes us connect, that makes us human to one another. Sometimes it’s good to lose the clutter of our passions. After I unconvincingly argued the merits of the mundane with my cousin, we went on to talk about work, and books, and family. Somewhere in the process, we finally sparked a connection.

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