A few years ago St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Sheffield, UK, underwent major structural changes. As a result, they had to reconsecrate the building. The Chair of the Methodist District was unable to attend their service and so he asked me to represent the District, as their Ecumenical Officer.
The whole event took a lot longer than I anticipated mainly because the service was followed by a massive reception at the Cutlers’ Hall (the city’s go to destination for civic receptions, Sheffield’s known for its knives and forks!). The three course meal with various wines was a complete surprise but I was able to take it in my stride. (A similar Methodist event would be followed with tea and cake – which I could equally take in my stride.)
Where was I? Oh yes, the service was amazing. I suppose as a seasoned non-conformist, I was bowled over by the religious razzamatazz, Methodists take great care not to be too exciting in case it draws attention. I was quite starry eyed as I watched all these men in amazing costumes wondering around with incense, sprinkling us with water and hang on, what exactly were they doing?
My eyes might have been starry but my mind was still working. When the penny dropped, I had to suppress my laughter. I was delighted! They were setting the table! It had to be ritualistically cleaned (presumably it was properly cleaned early by …) and then various cloths put on it, each with some significant meaning. They transformed a mundane activity into something else.
There is something delightful and profound in this. If it raises issues for you, then it is doing its job. It transforms the stuff of everyday life and makes it sublime. And the one objection I can think of to that is the stuff of everyday life is already sublime. Except when it isn’t. At a deeper level it causes us to question everything we do and everything we depend on. Who does your cleaning?
When my mother died, my father lived for 15 years in the same house, a shrine to my mother. Despite MS, he looked after it and kept it clean. He made a point to set out his knife and fork, even when eating alone. He was right because daily tasks help us through our days, our grief, our frustrations.
My own house is more chaotic and in urgent need of decluttering. I have no idea where all the stuff comes from. But even so, I structure my life around routine. My typical day is desk work in the mornings, walk in the afternoons and meetings or more work in the evenings. This means I don’t have to think about what to do next, I just do it.
It’s coming up to 1pm now and so I’ll have to finish, so I can do the washing up. Here’s a verse from a Methodist Hymn which perhaps does something similar to those priests, setting the table.
Praise in the Common things of life,
Its goings out and in;
Praise in each duty and each deed
However small and mean,Horatius Bonar, Singing the Faith 73
Day 18/21 of my writing challenge. Every weekday, I publish a short piece of writing on my subject, solitude. The writings are based on a daily prompt from Megan Macedo, who leads the challenge. These are all first drafts with minimal revision. Please comment if you find these posts helpful. Previous: Imbricated Roles Next: Run Sugars