“Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by implying it well. Then youth will be delightful, old age will bring few regrets, and life will become a beautiful success.” Louisa May Alcott
I was raised on old fashioned domestic rhythms like a nursery rhyme: Mondays are for washing, Tuesdays for ironing, Wednesdays for sewing, Thursdays for market, Fridays for baking, Saturdays for cleaning, and Sundays for rest. (Although my grandmother’s idea of rest was preparing Sunday dinner, including biscuits, for the entire family.) My mother was so ordered that I’ll bet we deviated from those old-time rhythms by only minutes. “Let’s take care of today,” she would say. “We will take care of tomorrow on tomorrow.” This, said by a woman who made her own biscuits every single day.
I was well into my teen years before finding out that not everyone followed this kind of domestic cadence.
I married young, and quickly learned what little I really knew about the women of my life, and how they were able to do things, like finish laundry, while also teaching a classroom of fourth graders. It might seem like that would’ve fallen into place for me easily enough, but no one told me how tiring it would be to muster a rhythm all by myself. No one let me in on just how much mess one dinner could make, or how vexing a task like moving socks from the dryer to the drawer could actually be. I’m lucky to have witnessed the anecdote in action, but I’ve spent three decades trying to learn how to keep it.
The answer is Domestic Rhythm. Mondays are the wash days…
One might think there’s no freedom in this kind of routine living, no accessibility to spontaneity, or reprieve from the mundane. But I challenge that notion because I was brought up inside of counted measures like these, and their deep timbres showed me how the spaces between could become sanctuaries spilling over into the next day’s stanzas.
For example, Mama woke us up every morning by flipping the light switch on the wall, and hollering her own rendition of Isaiah 60:1—“Arise and shine, for thy light is ON!” None of us kids liked it very much, but we learned the verse, and somehow in there, routine found sanctity in the simple act of waking up.
This face-the-day readiness provided a secure foundation for artistic expression in our home, allowing us the freedom we needed to create, to make art, and to just BE. The resulting pulse was as natural as breathing in and out; an ordered rhythm for stabilizing the necessary things, so that the free times were truly free. Like a kite in the hand on a breezy Sunday afternoon, I felt as if we were the most free children in the world.
As I write this today, the whole planet has been forced to listen to a Pandemic symphony. With the advent of a single microbe, we’ve begun to pay less attention to the gods: athletes, movie stars, and social media mahatmas. Instead, we seem to need to watch ordinary people do regular things—like washing sheets, caring for pets, planning meals, and saying prayers. Perhaps now is the perfect opportunity to practice some foundational rhythms that the generations before us knew and respected.
Before baking them, Mama would finish her biscuits by dipping two fingers in buttermilk and tapping the top of each one. Pat-pat-pat, pat-pat-pat, went the rhythm, until every circle of dough was imprinted with two finger-shaped divots. “The perfect size for buttermilk,” she would say, and I believed her. Looking back now, I think there’s a certain kind of blessing in realizing I grew up on daily bread that carried my mother’s very fingerprint.
The women of my childhood didn’t dream up the domiciliary nursery rhyme, and they never really said how they felt about it, but I can tell you what I’ve learned in attempting to follow their echoes. These things are a unique invitation to participate in God’s grand creation pattern, using domestic rhythm as a sort of liturgy of Thanksgiving, for the privilege of being afforded Life. I can testify to the goodness of beating those drums. Or, maybe it’s the other way around; maybe those tools of goodness are beating me—pressing out hardened apathy and resistance to helpful order, helping me remember there are more important things to do than merely serve my own personal comfort and whims.
I’m not as faithful as my mother, and she says she is not as faithful as hers. Perhaps instead of faithfulness as the requirement, it’s beginning each morning by rising and shining in the new mercies already offered because the Light is ON. By this, faithfulness becomes the outcome. After all, how does one make biscuits for dinner every single day unless there is a rhythm for it? Something as unfettered as “Today is Monday; I’m going to change and wash the sheets,” may be enough to make room for the meaningful—which is exactly the way of all good and helpful things.
Like letting tomorrow take care of itself.