Lenten Reflection: Housework As Mindfulness
by Sister Kate Filla
Several years ago I asked a friend what her Lenten practice was. She told me she would be cleaning out a closet. This sounded like a brilliant idea but I knew I had more than a closet to take care of. So I made a list of household jobs that I never seemed to get around to. I have found this process more helpful than giving something up. Yes, but is it a spiritual practice?
To come up with items requires me to think about what I am avoiding and why. It seems that to ignore and avoid violates a cardinal rule: Pay attention. This is another way of phrasing the practice that has been receiving a great deal of attention recently: mindfulness.
I had the wonderful opportunity to work at the International Center in LePuy, France, for six months during the summers of 2013 and 2014. Cleaning toilets, sweeping floors, setting tables, cooking, dusting. There was no way to avoid these jobs because that’s why I was there. This kind of work fostered a spiritual connection with my mother who had died in 2001. She was the one who taught me to do these jobs. To pay attention. I sensed her with me as I picked apples, peeled them and made applesauce. I swept the floor, cleared tables and scrubbed pots. I remembered how to slow down and to enjoy refilling the salt and pepper shakers. All the while I felt such deep gratitude for living in such a beautiful world.
Now as I focus on each of my Lenten jobs, I am in contact with the sacredness of what I have set about to do. I clear my mind and try to totally focus on what is before me. I pay attention. I practice mindfulness. Some days are days for one small job; some days I tackle more complex work. Ambling through my Lenten list prepares my home for spring and renews me as I clean, order, and de-clutter.
We hear it said that we only have this moment. What better way to live in the now than to be mindful of what I am about: to savor everything. One bite of apple, a favorite chair, a passing cloud, a tree moving in the wind.
And for me, during Lent, the gift I give myself is to fully engage, to pay attention: ordering a drawer, straightening a closet, recycling cardboard, cleaning the refrigerator, replacing burnt out bulbs. I have made my list. I have begun. On earth as it is in heaven.