Quotidian Mysteries

(Originally posted on November 4 2011)

I mostly meant it as a joke. But there was a serious side to it. Some responded to the humorous intention. Surprisingly, it proved to elicit thoughtful comments from others. There were even a couple people who sent private messages to explore my off-handed comment further. Here’s what transpired.

A couple of Saturdays ago, I was busy with household chores: laundry, cleaning bathrooms, and going to the hardware store to pick-up furnace filters. In the midst of it, I was thinking that I should probably post something on Facebook. I try to post something inspirational as a status update most days in the week. While I didn’t mind cleaning the kitchen, as I wiped off finger prints from the cabinets, an old liturgical phrase came to mind: the quotidian mysteries.

Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Episcopalians, and others from Western liturgical traditions are aware that in a traditional communion service, the minister or priest symbolically cleans the chalice (cup) and other vessels used in the service. While this may appear to be a lesson from Good Housekeeping, to wash the dishes after the meal, it’s actually a symbolic action referred to as the quotidian mysteries. The ritual of washing the dishes is a symbol that directs us back to ordinary life – to housekeeping and the mundane activities of daily life.

Think about the symbols: after sharing communion with the Divine and those in the community, what happens? The dishes need to be washed. In other words, we return to the ordinariness of life. This is much like the Buddhist saying: Before enlightenment, I carried water and chopped wood. After enlightenment, I carried water and chopped wood. To put it another way, spiritual moments are always in the context of ordinary life. No matter how lofty the experience, we still return to day-to-day reality.

Many people have the incorrect assumption that the spiritual dimension of life has to do with the great moments of insight, the self-transcendence of deep meditation, or the experience of ecstasy that takes a person to some new plane. Instead, the stuff of the spiritual life is found in the mundane and ordinary. It’s about washing the dishes, doing the laundry, and changing furnace filters. In other words, the quality of the spiritual dimension of life is not measured by the hours of prayer, meditation, or other spiritual practices. Instead, it’s measured by the quality of our day to day lives and the ways we reverence the ordinary.

Having recalled the phrase, quotidian mysteries, I made a quick status update on Facebook which read: “Today, I find myself absorbed with quotidian mysteries.” While my hands were busy with chores, my mind and heart were free to explore and be present to the mystery of life in the ordinary. While I freely admit that there was no ecstasy experienced while cleaning the cat’s litter box, I can say that being present and mindful as I worked brought peace to my inner spirit.

The quotidian mysteries – the mysteries of daily life – are the heart of the spiritual dimension of life. The time spent is spiritual practice comes to nothing unless the time helps to change how we experience daily life. The care and presence we display in our daily activities reflects the inner transformation that occurs through spiritual practice. Authentic inner changes reverberate beyond us and have the ability to bring changes in the quality of how we act in the world in very ordinary ways.

© 2014, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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