A while ago I was at my kitchen sink, washing a load of dishes and all of a sudden it hit me that this was the most glorious moment. The setting sun shone through a Mason jar growing lettuce illuminating the leaves like transparent green gems. The water and suds were warm between my fingertips as the sound of my husband and children laughing upstairs filled my ears. This moment was golden, it was precious; it was the moment I realized I had everything I needed right there, right then. This was it. This was life to the fullest.
About a month after that I remember being at the very same sink, with the very same setting sun, doing yet another load of dinner dishes and it hit me that this was the most boring, repetitive, stupid moment. Why on earth did I have kids? Why did I get married? I could have been traveling around Europe, free as a bird, writing and painting and doing who knows what amazing things with my life. Instead, I was stuck in the house, doing the same thing every day and the grayness of it all hung over me like a cloud.
I was always taught that God lives either in the high or the low, that we aspire for the high moments of clarity and enlightenment, and that the low moments are there to teach us, to push us out of ourselves so that we may seek growth and change.
And all of this is true.
But I have discovered another place that God dwells: in the moments between.
I do about two loads of dishes every day and there about thirty days in a given month. Doing simple math, two times thirty equals sixty loads of dishes in between the load where everything felt wonderful and the load where the world seemed bleak.
Sixty sinks of dishes. Sixty afternoons and evenings with my hands doing work that I’ve experienced as both profound and completely unexceptional.
And God was there all the while.
The trouble with trying to talk about how life is spiritual is that it tends to makes us mold our reality into something it isn’t. We can fall into a duality of thinking in which some moments are spiritual and some are not based on how we view them.
Religion often teaches us to chase after the enlightened moments, the peak experiences where we hear from the divine, gain some new understanding or transcend our old way of thinking. We attend retreats and conferences and workshops all designed to create these moments, to force God into a couple of hours or days.
The rest of the world prevails on us to move faster, to forget the divine spark within and work, achieve, succeed. Technology is lovely, but it doesn’t help. The Internet never takes a day off. It’s always there, demanding that we be more, do more, engage less with the real reality of things.
Constructing peak moments of transcendence or becoming too busy and distracted to engage with real, gritty life means that many of us are missing the gifts of the mundane.
Because yes, boring, repetitive tasks are a gift. They are just as much the dwelling place of God as the mountains and valleys. They are the dusty, winding trails in between where much of our lives are actually lived.
In his book Reality Is Not What It Seems, the renowned theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli says, “To “see” is to perceive light, and light is the movement of the [electromagnetic] Faraday lines. Nothing leaps from one location in space to another without something transporting it. If we see a child playing on the beach, it is only because between him and ourselves there is this lake of vibrating lines that transport his image to us. Is the world not marvelous?”
We often think of the mundane as things like laundry, mowing the lawn, our daily commute, paperwork, cooking meals, or a full inbox, but the mundane can also be as simple as seeing. Or breathing. It is where we process, where we think. The mundane is where we figure out what to do and why. It is contained within the inner workings of our bodies and minds.
There is a vast difference between engineering our moments to seem momentous, between mindfully observing our moments until we force them to feel awe-filled, and the deep, abiding knowledge that the Divine is already woven into the threads of our reality in such a way that our moments need be nothing else than exactly what they are.
What if we didn’t have to work so hard to find God because God lives in us, in all moments?
This gives life to the mundane in a way that forced experiences can not. Because we are human and there are days in which it’s all boring; it’s all drying laundry and our jerk boss droning on and on. This is good. This is where God dwells. There are days in which we can’t engineer our feelings into something other than hopelessness and rage. This is good. This is where God dwells. There are also days in which everything is right, love is abundant, and blessings flow. Our work feels meaningful, our relationships solid, and all is well. This is good. This is where God dwells.
Martin Sheen, on the podcast On Being with Krista Tippett, is quoted as saying, “The genius of God [is] to dwell where we would least likely look: within the depths of our own being…. Our own humanity.”
So how can we be more grounded in our moments? How can we learn to accept them exactly as they are?
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Here are 3 practical suggestions for seeing the mundane as spiritual.
1. Notice your emotions in any given moment and don’t try to change them.
Allow them to exist exactly as they are. Invite God through prayer or thought to begin to speak to you as you live your life moment by moment knowing that God is with you the whole time.
2. Re-engage with the mundane.
Force yourself to do rote or routine tasks like saying hello when you pass someone on the street or cleaning your house. We’re so busy today that many of us hire other people to do all the boring jobs. We have house cleaners and lawn guys and personal trainers and we shop for groceries online. Give some of your help a week off and do a gritty, boring thing. Inhabit your own life. Notice how you feel and what you think about while you’re doing these tasks.
3. Become aware of opportunities to do mundane things in community.
Community is the result of the mundane – it’s the byproduct of doing the everyday tasks involved in living together. Ask someone for directions, help your neighbors move in, give your friend a lift or cook a meal together and see what happens.