Bono said there was a silence that comes to a house when no one can sleep; but the greater silence, in my experience, comes when everybody but me is asleep. The not-quite-three-year-old who didn't take a nap today dropped off to sleep with little trouble, and a diligent but exhausted wife was in bed before even her son.
I am sure that it is quieter when they are here and asleep than it is when I am home alone. Perhaps because I tread more softly as not to wake them. Yet even the animals seem to keep their peace at such times as this.
Add to this the still of winter outside my window, and you have a rare kind of quiet, the kind that makes standing at the sink doing the dishes a contemplative act. Going over my list of tasks for the night as the sink fills, a strange content falls on me. Perhaps because of the stillness in the house. But it is strange insofar as it comes when so many mundane tasks lay before me.
These are not the things that get in the way of life, it finally occurs to me. They are the stuff of life itself. Washing dishes and picking up toys and sweeping floors and tending to paperwork are necessary and natural parts of living in a corporeal world. And there is a shift in my perspective that makes sense of the content. If this world of matter and energy is not second-rate, if the creation is truly loved, then every element of existence in it, every necessary part of making one's way through a mortal life in it, every meal and every shower, every bit of the work of my hands by which I make my living and every pause I take to enjoy its many beauties, is a hallowed act. Like a monk scrubbing the monastery floor, washing the dishes becomes almost an act of worship.
If even so mundane a task as this can be hallowed, what then, O Lord, is unimportant in Thy sight?
I finish the dishes, wipe the counter clean, and set to a general tidy of the kitchen. In a pile of flyers that has come in the mail, I find a new issue of a magazine I subscribe to; immediately sidetracked (my wife will testify I'm prone to it), I spend several minutes perusing the headlines. And then I snap back to the task of tidying with an almost comic feeling of guilt. Not the normal I-should-stop-goofing-off guilt that comes when you get distracted doing monotonous work - a little greater than that. But not a heavy moral guilt, either. Rather, the sheepish kind of guilt that you feel when you find your mind drifting to last night's movie during the Sermon.
The countless toys in the living room don't even seem to test my patience when I get to them, but I don't notice this. Not until I am halfway through cleaning the first of two rabbit cages do I realize that I am not even hurrying. I've stopped to pet Dusty, rubbing the top of his head with the back of my index finger. He presses into it; rabbits love that, even though they almost always look frightened. This chore is not in the way. It is not an interruption, as it almost always has been on any other night. It is not a duty that delays a thing; it is the thing itself, right now, in this moment.
If this, too, is worth doing as unto You, what dare I deem trivial?
The rabbits tended, I sit before my laptop in the living room and tend to an insurance matter. I find myself being unusually thorough. It takes only a few minutes, but in that time all three cats have gathered in a circle around me, waiting on their nightly treat that is, in fact, just a vehicle for a medication that only one of them needs.
Treats for the cats. Then finely, dare I say lovingly chopped orange pepper for Timmy the Crab. For what are pets, after all, but creation entrusted to our care in a special arrangement? 'Until you have allowed your heart to love an animal,' Anatole France said, 'a part of your soul remains unawakened.'
Frustration and annoyance just didn't show up tonight. Could every day be like this?
The Lord Almighty grant us a quiet night, and at the last a perfect end; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be with us this night, and for evermore. Amen.