Tuesday, December 11, 2012


My “writer’s window” faces a small patio bordered by a tall live oak tree and a few plants that have survived our lackadaisical care. It isn’t a patio of great beauty and is peopled by a St. Francis of Assisi statue, a small rust brown chimenea, a struggling Norfolk pine in a black pot, and a green table holding a dying house plant. Occasionally, we place two chairs on the floor of this almost-barren patio in hopes that the mosquitoes will disappear long enough for us to enjoy the outdoors and a blazing fire in the chimenea. St. Francis looks stoic and unmoved by the scene, but, then, when he was alive, “God’s jester,” only went indoors to his Portiuncula (the little chapel) to pray. Most days he frolicked with his band of Subasio monks in the outdoors, talking to the birds, absolutely detached from material things and the “real world.”

I interact with the life of the patio from behind the smeared glass of my writer’s window and enjoy the view, but many times while I’m viewing the outdoor scene, unlike St. Francis, I’m being a Martha, looking at the acorns, pine needles, oak leaves and dust strewn across it and reminding myself that I need to take up the broom instead of becoming immersed in the outdoor world. Such is the distraction of domesticity, as C. S. Lewis called it – the burdensome sense of duty that keeps many of us from “enjoying the view.”

Lewis wrote about this distraction in The Four Loves, proclaiming that the practical and prudential cares of this world, and even the smallest and most prosaic of those cares, are the greatest distractions. He writes: “The gnat like cloud of petty anxieties and decisions about the conduct of the next hour have interfered with my prayers more often than any passion or appetite…” He goes on to say that the reason St. Paul tried to dissuade his converts from marriage and domestic life is because the domestic life often presents distractions from more important work or keeps us from progressing on our spiritual journeys.

Who would prefer wielding a broom to watching the wind move in the branches of the oak overhanging my patio or listening to the crows argue about their place on a precarious branch? The question is rhetorical for me, and I answer it with the words, “compulsive-obsessive cleaners!” Two of my close friends who know about my obsession with the dirty patio keep reminding me that the floor of this patio lies in the outdoors and that a crackling bed of acorns and brown leaves provides a better welcome mat than the cold tiles in some of the rooms of my house. It’s only pride that pushes me to consider the possible distaste good friends might show when they enter through my back door and stop to look at the messy patio floor, which they would have missed had they come in the front door… like strangers. And what about the water puddle in a low spot of the patio floor that fills after a hard rain? And the coiled green hose covered with mud and mold hanging on a rack on one wall of the patio?

So…so when I return from Sewanee to Louisiana each fall, the first item I write on my grocery list is a large bottle of Clorox – and the siege of broom and pail begins on a concrete pad painted brick red that has weathered a humid Louisiana summer. It’s not for nothing, as the kids say, that I earned this title of “Tidy Idy” in my family. What a drudge! And I’d much rather be remembered as a Sister Clare, St.Francis’s first woman follower who established the monastic Order of the Poor Clares based on Equality. However, I hasten to add that although Clare was the respected head of this female band, she never gave up her household duties. Had patios been constructed during her lifetime, she probably would have been a precursor of my cleaning sieges.  And so much for the domestic life deterring spiritual progress!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am with you; once I start scrubbing or stripping 140 years of paint, varnish, rug, foam off our pine floors, I become ruthless. It is an outer expression of the inner stripping and cleansing in my heart