Kathleen Norris in Acedia and Me
Lately, I’ve been struggling with repetition. In particular, cleaning the highchair. Before London was born I chose all sorts of baby gear items: a crib, a stroller, a highchair. But I had no idea what I needed. So I picked a highchair without a removable tray. That means no throwing the tray in the dishwasher. Every time I clean it, I have to clean the whole thing, every crevice, by hand. Admittedly, it takes 10 minutes. No big deal. But the frustration is that I clean it three times a day. It’s this unending cycle in which nothing I do stays done.
The highchair, for me, has come to represent every frustration I have with my new stay-at-home life. Every day brings the same tasks, the same obstacles, the same floors to sweep, the same dishes to wash, the same clothes to fold. There is little to no variation, and, worse, no permanence. Almost nothing I do lasts.
So, I’ve been reading this book by Kathleen Norris to help me embrace what’s good about doing the same thing over and over and over. She struggles to see the silver lining, too, but she cites her mom as a positive example.
Here’s what she says about bed-making (I hate bed-making):
"To me, the act was stupid repetition; to my mother, it was a meaningful expression of hospitality to oneself, and a humble acknowledgment of our creaturely need to make and remake our daily environments."
I like that. I love a clean house—even if I hate the cleaning. I feel good about myself when the house is clean. It’s frustrating to see it dirtied, but it’s peace-giving to see it clean.
I think about man’s first job, gardening in Eden, making and remaking his environment. Gardening is one of those never-ending tasks. The second you stop, all of your work disappears.
I think, too, about God’s emphasis on ritual: daily prayers, weekly meetings, annual festivals, regular sacrifices. God requires repetition.
Somehow, tending our lives makes us more like Him—a God Who makes the sun rise every morning, Who schedules the tides, Who plants thousands, even millions of the same flower.
Maybe doing something again, whatever it is, makes the doing more valuable. Maybe each repetition makes the act more meaningful.