Monday, May 25, 2009

Today's Spiritual Exercise

My spiritual exercise for today is to not do laundry.

Instead, I am sitting in the crisp Vermont sunshine, vegetable garden to my left, goat and chicken yard to my right, Wolfie baking slowly on the slate path before me, birdsong in the woods behind me. The California poppies against the back wall of the garage are exploding into bloom. They will look terrible in a week or so when the kleenex-thin flowers fade, but right now they're spectacular.

On a day like this it would be a sin to stay indoors. But I haven't always known this.

When I was a kid, it was all about delayed gratification, from waiting four hours between bottles as an infant to delaying sex until marriage. On this brilliant spring day, everything I was ever taught—by my parents, by the German nuns who educated me, by the Church in general—tells me that I should be in the house right now, doing laundry. I should be in the kitchen, freezing spinach before it bolts. And I should be making some effort towards preserving at least a portion of the rhubarb that refuses to stop growing. Not until all this is done should I go sit outside.

A recent article in the New Yorker talks about children's ability to delay gratification, and the strong correlation between this ability and the child's future success in life. In my case, I spent the first half of my life becoming a virtuoso of delayed gratification, and the second half trying to learn to grab gratification before it vanishes.

I find it much harder to learn to be a grasshopper than I did learning to be an ant. Right now, for instance, it's really difficult to distract myself from the thought that our supply of clean underwear is running dangerously low.

But then a half-remembered quote from the gospel comes to me, the one about the lilies of the field, who neither spin nor weave but are better dressed than even Solomon in all his glory.

So, no spinning, no weaving, no laundry, but instead, lily-gazing to my heart's content: that's my spiritual task on this Memorial Day.

8 comments :

  1. two hours ago, i was sitting in a lawn chair telling doug, "i need to move my closet, i need to plant the impatiens, i need to put the laundry away, and i need to work on my book."

    and he said, sitting in the lawn chair next to me, "oh, that's ridiculous."

    and i stayed where i was for another hour.

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  2. It's tough to do. I did it this weekend--away from the house in a cabin with nothing I could do but have a good time.

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  3. Laurie, is it something about men? Ed's message was, "Don't do laundry today. It's Memorial Day!" So I'm off to do it now.

    Bridgett, it's the only way! You have to physically remove yourself from the scene of your obligations. Glad you had a good time!

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  4. I too need to physically remove myself from obligations.

    I had a great Saturday and a great (but not task-free Monday), but Sunday I had major tasks and I did not step outside once! It was terrible! (And yet, I am relieved to have gotten those things at long last accomplished.)

    And right now? I'm doing laundry. While I work.

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  5. Being an ant does have its rewards--that feeling of accomplishment to which so many of us are addicted being a major one.

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  6. Please go check your facebook account for a new friend from your Birmingham past. keh

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  7. Lali....that is beautiful, thank-you for putting it down for all of us. Now I understand better the desire vs. obligation that forever pulls at me and am so pleased that I am able to go to the plants, flowers, trees for comfort.

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  8. Hi there, KEH! I got your Facebook message before seeing this comment. Lovely to hear from you.

    Dona, thanks for the good words, and for being my plant mentor.

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