Ordinary Work: Sarah Bessey

I simply get to work on ordinary things.

This is all I know to do when I don’t know what to do.

We go for a walk in the morning’s cold. We pay attention to the snow dusting the tops of the mountains to the north and to the east of us: look at that, we say, isn’t it beautiful? We pass a bit of time with neighbours as we run into them. We can see our breath and our ears are cold so we turn for home sooner than we planned. We listen to music and we draw pictures.

I make a plan for the week’s meals and then a list for the grocery store, carefully grouping each item by section. I load up two of the tinies and we go to the store, pushing the cart up and down aisles, piling in an abundance of food for the weeks ahead. We negotiate in the aisles over bags of chips and lunch meat. We drive home and unload the groceries, organizing and prepping.

Then I put the baby on my back in the baby carrier, I get out the vacuum, and I drag it over the floor, sucking up every crumb and a few stray Lego pieces. The tinies go outside to putter in the yard with their dad, digging in the dirt and pulling up logs and filling old sand buckets with worms. I move around our house, picking things up and putting them back where they belong: socks, books, more Lego pieces, permission slips, empty cups, inside-out shirts, toys, shoes, soothers. One after another, everything is restored to its place and order slowly returns to this house. The sun is sinking earlier and earlier with each passing day: today, I turn the lamps on at 4 o’clock. I get supper started and then yell at everyone about tracking in all that yard dirt on my clean floors. The sky is pitch dark by the time we sit down to eat as a family, just a regular old meal of burgers and oven french fries.

After supper, I dance the baby around the kitchen while the girls dance in the living room. We’re spinning to Wildest Dreams by Taylor Swift because I’m never above happy-pop music and yet I feel like crying. We measure them up against the wall, they’re growing by leaps and bounds now, I’ll never be able to keep them in jeans. There is a bin of broken crayons in the basement and there are clean sheets on the beds, everyone has been scrubbed and I’ve clipped forty fingernails plus forty toenails. The hockey game is on mute and now I’ve got the baby down for her first shift of sleep so the rest of them get out their books and they read by the lamplight.

I don’t know what to pray and I don’t really know what to do.

The world seems like it’s crashing around us, from all four corners of the world and right next door, too. We are afraid and we don’t know what to do so we are reading the news and watching the news and we are pontificating on Facebook and we are writing letters or emails and we are getting mad at each other for all the ways we’re all doing it wrong.

I don’t know what to do.

I’m lighting candles now. It seems a bit silly.

I show up here with intention and I try to notice my own life a bit more, I consecrate the ordinary work. I figure that if the world is being desecrated the least we can do is try to notice all of the sacredness that remains still around us and in us.

So I notice things like the old-man pine trees with their stooped and swayed boughs, I notice the pink streaks of the sunset, I laugh at the lame jokes my tinies tell me, and I put away the phone while I nurse the baby in order to look at her quiet face. I stop my husband to thank him for how hard he works and I hold on just a bit longer when he wraps his arms around me: stay with me, I say, just for another minute, I love to be here with you.

I am not that powerful and I’m certainly not important. I feel like there isn’t much I can do about the fact that the world seems to be ending every Saturday night. I write letters to politicians with my suggestions for improvement. I send money to people who seem like they know what they’re doing. I read a lot.

And I pray. I pray while I work.

That’s what my ordinary work has become for me, an embodied prayer, a way of holding space for all that is broken while my hands work towards creating a bit of cleanliness, a bit of order, a bit of beauty around me.

I feed people, I clean, I walk, I gather people, I sing, and the whole time a corner of my soul is crying out to God in braided grief and hope and longing: strengthen us, embolden us, light our hearts on fire, show us we belong to each other, break down the barriers between us, give us eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to understand.

I call down fire and love and justice and peace like falling stars and I pray for the courage to crack open my own life to receive their burning clarity.

The Sanitized Stories We Tell
The Nightwatch
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