“You’ll get your allowance when you trim the Pyracantha bushes and pick them up.” That’s the way my mother invited me to get going on my Saturday chores when I was a kid. Some Saturdays were easier. Mow the lawn. Pull some dandelions in the backyard. Those weren’t such bad tasks. The Pyracantha though. They were a pain! I had to get the ladder out. The clippers were electric but I had to use an extension cord. I also needed hand clippers for some of the tougher parts of the bushes. Cutting the branches was bad enough. Getting them into the trash cans was a whole different deal. The branches all have thorns. Thorns that are long and sharp enough to penetrate the garden gloves I used. Suffice it to say, I have lingering and unpleasant memories of Saturday chores.
Mom isn’t around to make me do my chores anymore. I’m accountable for giving and receiving my allowance. I don’t own any Pyracantha bushes. In fact, I don’t have to do too many outside tasks anymore. I’m lazier than I was 45 years ago. Someone else mows the lawn. It rains more in Pennsylvania where I am now in contrast to Arizona where I grew up. No one can make me weed the gardens or prune the roses.
Such freedom opens portals to lethargy or complacency. It is leisurely to watch ESPN. Pulling weeds isn’t as much fun. Yes – and – the current human narrative states that a person cannot accomplish great things without putting in the labor necessary to achieve beauty. One evidences a beautiful yard because the gardener, homeowner, or someone chooses that they enjoy gardening. They and other neighbors around them delight in their yard being beautiful. The same rule applies for living a beautiful life as well.
Chores are different for me now. I exercise time and energy in something when it inspires me. I’ll move dirt around when I believe such an endeavor will bear good fruit. Putting the work in needs to amount to more than a $5.00 allowance. And yet, setting my expectations too high also keep me on the couch rather than outside with trimmers or a shovel in my hands. The trick is to find a rhythm in something that seems worthwhile beyond the mundane.
I’ve been getting dirt under my fingers and spending time on my hands and knees spending time with monarch butterflies. I blogged about this initiative a few weeks ago. Tending to butterflies and milkweed plants has become something of an obsession for me. My neighbors may wonder why I’m looking on the underside of milkweed leaves. (Because I am searching for butterfly eggs). I’m watering the zinnias and the butterfly bushes in late August because the Monarch Migration to Mexico is underway. I’m interested in sending a few more monarchs on their way south in a healthy way.
There’s more to it though. I am getting a lot out of it. It is pleasurable to observe a butterfly transform itself from a speck of an egg to a clumsy caterpillar to an emerald green chrysalis to a orange and black butterfly. The process takes less than a month and it seems like a lifetime. There are heartbreaks in learning how to accomplish this chore. The caterpillars will die if I do not keep their cage clean. I have to be extra careful what I feed these insects because they are very susceptible to viruses. The fact is that I can’t keep all of them alive, especially the ones living on my milkweed plants in the garden. It is wild out there, even in the midst of the beautiful lawn that the church’s volunteer mows for me.
Simply put, I care for the butterflies because it is meaningful to them and even more meaningful to me. Somehow in this simple, routine, and meticulous labor, I feel closer to God and to myself.
I suppose that many people, like me, view spiritual disciplines to be something of a chore. Few people I know love to meditate. It is soooooo pleasurable to observe one’s mind flirt back and forth when gazillions of thoughts and feelings leading to absolutely nowhere. (NOT!) Other people, including myself, pray or intercede to The Divine because they view such a practice as a religious obligation. Praying is believing some say. Yes and….who, what, or why is more shaped and formed by such prayer? God or us?
Quaker, speaker, writer, and educator Parker Palmer offers all of us a valuable purpose for undertaking such daily spiritual practices. Palmer writes: “Our lives are filled with contradictions—from the gap between our aspirations and our behavior, to observations and insights we cannot abide because they run counter to our convictions. If we fail to hold them creatively, these contradictions will shut us down and take us out of the action. … We are imperfect and broken beings who inhabit an imperfect and broken world. The genius of the human heart lies in its capacity to use these tensions to generate insight, energy, and new life.” (Palmer, 2011, para. 5)
My spiritual discipline for now is hardly representative of orthodox Christianity. I’m fairly faithful in saying the Lord’s Prayer at least once a day. I actually am spending more time looking after insects and accomplishing sun salutations. Once again, I am the only responsible for punishing or rewarding myself on most days. I discern that what matters most is to undertake something and to stay with it. Experiment – probe your limitations with curiosity rather than complacency. If one particular meditative chore isn’t working, find something else.
The world is too complicated a place to take on all of its uncertainty and tragedy without completing daily spiritual chores. So, we all might as well find something that is not just tolerable. It is fruitful. There are many alternatives to checking in with one’s ego and anxieties to be sure. And, if you want to know God and yourself more wholly, you have to get your hands dirty and your soul renewed in the grittiness of silence and breath – observation and hope. Be mindful of the thorns though. They can be really hard to get out from underneath your skin.
Blessings along The Way,