Some summers ago at Chautauqua I was introduced to a wonderful little book called Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of the Light, by Joan Chittister, who describes the contemplative life in the context of the modern world, with all its distractions and demands. Writing from the Benedictine tradition, which is far removed from my Unitarian upbringing, she still speaks to what matters to me as she sees the challenges of life but keeps a clear sense of what matters most deeply. The lessons from the desert monastics along with her chapters on the spiritual life have relevance for my far-from-monastic life because she is so realistic about the contemplative life in the modern world and why it is so important.
Chittister illuminates the spiritual life by going through the alphabet of its qualities – awareness, beauty, community, and so on, through yearning and zeal. I’m particularly fond of the chapter on Dailiness, which reminds me that the small daily routines of my life are not boring interruptions of my quest for spiritual growth but give me the space to ponder the greater questions. Resistant as I am to household chores, I’m trying to do these chores with a sense of love and connection. I’m trying to keep my life in order because I like having my life in order, because I like being in a calm and peaceful environment.
I’ve taken to reading a chapter of Illuminated Life as part of my morning mediation, because it gives me something rich and grounded to consider as I sit in silence and then as I move through my day. Here’s a piece of what Chittister says about dailiness:
Regularity has been a mark of the spiritual life in every century, in every tradition. The rule of Benedict is built on an ordo of prayer, work, and reading that forms the backbone of every day of the monastic life. Why? Because the spiritual life is meant to be dull? No, because the spiritual life is meant to be constant, meant to be centered. The dailiness of spiritual practices, the practices of daily life, focus the heart and concentrate the mind. Incessant agitation, unending variety, constant novelty, a torrent of gadgetry, a life filled with the strange and the unfamiliar irritate the soul and fragment the inner vision. Dailiness, routine, sameness freees the heart to traffic in more important matters.
During this summer of travels and visits and parties and beaches, it’s been such a pleasure each time to come home to the quiet routines of our daily life, where I can look out the window at the pond as I’m washing the dishes and know that this is where I find peace.