Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chewing Cud, Septic Tanks, Dirty Laundry, Jesus Saves

We have been studying the story of Joseph in our women's Bible study at church. This is, by far, one of the best stories in the Bible, and Joseph is a captivating character. Imperfect as he was, from a dysfunctional family, treated unfairly and thrown in bondage and prison, he eventually rose to be the second most powerful man in Egypt and named one of his sons Ephraim, "for God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction" (Gen. 41:52, ESV). How was God able to use him so powerfully and how was he able to use his gifts so effectively and humbly in such a high position of power?

As I have read his story, I have been taken over and over again by the thought of his faithfulness in doing his work well, no matter where he was put. As a young, arrogant, spoiled son, he still faithfully followed his father's orders and went out to check on his brothers in the field. As a servant in Potiphar's house, he did his work well enough to be recognized and given a position of honor. As a prisoner, his integrity and skill were recognized, and he served there faithfully for many years. Life was not easy, with (rightfully?) jealous older brothers, a scheming married woman, and a forgetful cupbearer. But no matter his position, he learned to do his work well and to listen to God in that place of faithful, daily service.

The result? When he was called before Pharoah, he was humble enough to give God the glory for interpreting the dreams and wise enough to use the chance to demonstrate his natural gifts as a leader. This once arrogant spoiled kid was elevated to the second highest position in the land, and, again, he worked faithfully in the position. The scriptures don't tell us how he eventually came to a place of humility or how he was able to forgive his brothers. I can only assume that all of those years of doing his work faithfully and well, learning to accept his position as the place where God wanted him for that particular time, honed in him the ability to hear God and follow His Spirit. As Romans 5 says, "endurance produces character." Joseph endured and was refined.

Or, as a woman in my Bible study put it, he was "chewing his cud to the glory of God." After all, if cows can bring God glory, can't we, in the small things we do every day, also bring him glory?

I think it is no coincidence that I finished reading Kathleen Norris' The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and "Women's Work" right as we were discussing Joseph in our Bible study. I'm pretty sure this was God's way of getting a message through my thick skull. This Lenten fast has been a good time of reflection for me as I reasses how I spend my time. I am seeing the ways that I have refused to accept the place where God has put me and to work faithfully in the daily stuff of life, the "quotidian." Norris notes that we spend much of modern life trying to avoid things like laundry and dishes and housecleaning. In her experience (and I believe it to be true), these very mundane tasks are the ones where God can speak to us most clearly and refine our characters. They are the liturgy of life through which the God who chose to become incarnate, to take on flesh and all the mess of life, speaks to our souls. Avoiding them is one of the main indicators of spiritual depression.

Norris is not a mother, but she speaks so clearly into the lives of mothers. What is the life of a mother if not mundane, full of small tasks to which I am called to be faithful? Instead of settling into this life, of being faithful in the folding of little shirts and cleaning of dirty bathrooms, I choose to distract myself from the quotidian, to jump on the internet or run off to playdates or museums or parks. Those things are not bad when they have a proper place in my life that also includes a lot of time at home just taking care of little people. Chewing my cud to the glory of God.

And the truth is, taking care of kids, though full of mundane tasks, is also a lot of fun. My kids are so funny and smart and loving, but I fail to see that when I am wishing to be elsewhere, doing more important things.

I was thinking of this when I was driving down the interstate the other day and saw a septic tank company truck with the words "Jesus Saves" printed in large letters on the side of the tank. Certainly I never wanted to be a septic tank gal when I was growing up, and I did want to be a mother. I have what I wanted, but I so often do the job with a chip on my shoulder or my head in the clouds. But I am willing to bet that the man who runs that company, who deals every day with the dirty, daily, mess of life, must see it as a job worth doing to God's glory. Else why would he put that on his trucks?


evenshine said...

Familiar with Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection? Practicing the Presence of God? Same concept as you describe in the post.
A professor of mine for my BA always talked about a "sacramental worldview"- the idea that we should do all our actions, no matter how mundane- as though they were heart surgery or peace negotiations.
Good stuff!

Kate said...

This was a wonderful post, and one I needed to read. I love Kathleen Norris, and Quotidian Mysteries is one of my all-time favourite books. I need to get a new copy because I lent mine to a friend and never got it back...

Thank you for this.

TwoSquareMeals said...


Yes, I have read Brother Lawrence several times. I think this is one of those lessons I just keep having to learn over and over again in each new stage of life.


I'm glad the post was a good one for you. I am definitely learning a lot about this right now as the Spirit leads me through Lent.

And...yet another book love we have in common!

At A Hen's Pace said...

I love The Quotidian Mysteries too!!

Another good one is The Pace of a Hen, by Josephine Moffat Benton--a good Quaker sacramental perspective, and the book I named my blog after!

Chewing the cud, laying an egg--it's all productive in its own routine way.