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Everydayness

The way through the world

Is more difficult to find than the way beyond it.

Wallace Stevens, “Reply To Papini”

And:

“It’s one thing to develop a nostalgia for home while you’re boozing with Yankee writers in Martha’s Vineyard or being chased by the bulls in Pamplona. It’s something else to go home and visit with the folks in Reed’s drugstore on the square and actually listen to them. The reason you can’t go home again is not because the down-home folks are mad at you–they’re not, don’t flatter yourself, they couldn’t care less–but because once you’re in orbit and you return to Reed’s drugstore on the square, you can stand no more than fifteen minutes of the conversation before you head for the woods, head for the liquor store, or head back to Martha’s Vineyard, where at least you can put a tolerable and saving distance between you and home. Home may be where the heart is but it’s no place to spend Wednesday afternoon.”

— Walker Percy, “Lost In The Cosmos”

I’m the guy who can spend all morning thinking about the Beyond — ideas, I mean, and events in world that was or in the world to come. But I have no idea what to do with myself when there’s no book, or somebody to talk to about the things I read in books.

The thing is, for the Christian, Wallace Stevens’ distinction is only apparent; getting to our particular Beyond — heaven, a state of eternal blessedness in the presence of God — depends on how one gets through the Here And Now. Yet Stevens’s distinction is important, even vital, because too often, Christians, especially Christian intellectuals, live as if the faith was about ideas, and how we relate to ideas in our own minds. Thinking about God is not the same thing as being with God, and in God.

This is my problem. Everydayness is my problem. It’s easy to think about what you would do in wartime, or if a hurricane blows through, or if you spent a month in Paris, or if your guy wins the election, or if you won the lottery or bought that thing you really wanted. It’s a lot more difficult to figure out how you’re going to get through today without despair.

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25 Comments To "Everydayness"

#1 Comment By jaybird On November 14, 2012 @ 9:55 am

“Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”

– Unknown

#2 Comment By Sam M On November 14, 2012 @ 10:04 am

The thing is, the people at Reeds Drug Store ARE talking about books and ideas, They are just talking about them in a coded language that intellectuals either ignore or can’t understand. Someone with a PhD in education might thirst for an academic conference about no child left behind. I get that. But that lady at the drug store complaining that her kid can’t be valedictorian because he’s in vo-tech and the kids taking AP classes get extra points for their classes… that’s what the PhD in education is for. That’s what it’s about.

People at the drug store ARE talking about Robespierre, but in the local context. Robespierre, after all, is about power and abuse thereof, it’s about limits and all that stuff.

#3 Comment By Amarus Cameron On November 14, 2012 @ 10:09 am

“This is my problem. Everydayness is my problem. It’s easy to think about what you would do in wartime, or if a hurricane blows through, or if you spent a month in Paris, or if your guy wins the election, or if you won the lottery or bought that thing you really wanted. It’s a lot more difficult to figure out how you’re going to get through today without despair.”

Rod, I would not disagree with you but my fight with such everydayness has been recently concluded. I found that with the Lord one simply needs to sit and listen for a while, to actual try to gain a glimpse of his purpose for your life. Stillness is praised so much in Christian teaching yet how many of us can actually handle it? When it comes and you break down enough to actually want an answer, being still is not so bad.

So my advice here is to be still in the Lord, dwell on his prupose for your life; if you don’t know what that is, ask. Once you have asked, wait. If you think you know what that purpose is then you should have no problem with everydayness…I can’t sit down for five minutes without reading something or working on something that moves me forward. I have a mission to complete.

#4 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On November 14, 2012 @ 10:29 am

As I’ve said before, I’m a conventional person living a low drama life, and I like it that way. Everydayness itself is my comfort from despair.

Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

I can’t imagine being bored as long as there are books to be read, fireplaces to be stoked, and my dog lounging next to me. My problem is I have too many commitments pulling me away from Sunday afternoon loafing.

#5 Comment By Ron L On November 14, 2012 @ 10:42 am

Thanks to everyone for those comments. I got something out of every one of them.

Rod, please feel free to write more about this. I’d like to follow your journey because I have similar feelings.

Despair isn’t the right word for my experience, but there is often a sense of drifting in the day-to-day, of temporary purposelessness. I fret that the span of my years is so little, but also that my energy and attention are often insufficient for the hours in a single afternoon.

Perhaps we have too much free time.

#6 Comment By Niall On November 14, 2012 @ 10:43 am

What Sam M said.

#7 Comment By Rod Dreher On November 14, 2012 @ 10:59 am

I’m not blaming the everyday for my anxiety; I’m blaming my inability to be still on the inside and dwell in the moment.

#8 Comment By MikeCLT On November 14, 2012 @ 11:00 am

Don’t spend so much time trying to figure out what God’s will is for the world or for other people. We can’t know it and spending too much time trying to figure it out is frustrating. In my opinion I can only know, to a very limited extent, what God’s will is for me.

God’s will for me is to practice the principles of love and service in my everyday affairs. If I try to concentrate on this then the everyday becomes manageable. If I am somewhat successful at this then the everyday can become profound.

#9 Comment By Ryan On November 14, 2012 @ 11:46 am

Percy is the right companion to have here. When I find myself in a bout of “everydayness,” as you call it, I like to do one of those Percyian thought-experiments and think, Under what conditions would I be unutterably grateful for this situation, these people, this place?

For instance, I recently found myself in a rather banal conference discussing ecclesiastical minutiae (I’m a pastor), but then I thought how thrilling it would be even to be having this same inane conversation if we were, in that room, the last surviving pastors of a state-wide persecution. Perhaps it sounds silly, but I think part of Percy’s point in “Lost in the Cosmos” and other essays is that we are in just such a troubled situation (not persecution, per se, but exile from Eden), and our malaise grows out of a failure to recognize it, grows out of our success in adapting to it.

#10 Comment By elrond On November 14, 2012 @ 12:07 pm

Rod, this is going to sound snarky, but I don’t mean it that way: Have you ever tried morning devotionals? That is, building up the habit of spending some time, maybe just 15 minutes, reading God’s Word, praying about what’s on your heart, and listening to His voice?
I’ve been doing this for awhile now, using the Psalms, and it’s amazing the impact it has had on my life. It provides peace within any internal despair, or outward storm. And it affects the normal routine of the day, allowing me to recognize God’s presence and His blessing, even in the mundane.
I also want to thank Amarus Cameron for that wonderful comment.

#11 Comment By Dod On November 14, 2012 @ 12:19 pm

It could just be another distraction but check out the film, “Rivers and Tides” on the landscape art of Andy Goldworthy. Listening to and watching him so thoughtfully, even joyfully construct works that will be eroded, blown away or otherwise “gently” destroyed, is an education in the beauty and possibilities of everydayness. Paying attention to and learning to work with it. A widely shared challenge that can become an opening to everyday (the most important kind) repentance and the kingdom.

Posts like this and comments it can elicit make this blog something quite apart. A good thing.

#12 Comment By Elijah On November 14, 2012 @ 1:21 pm

St. Paul’s writings are very much about how only in Christ are people’s lives fully integrated. That is, only in Christ can we change both our thinking and our actions.

One of the greatest and most frightening things I learned from Paul is this: my earthly life ain’t that important except as it reflects God’s plan. Whatever else His plan may hold, it definitely requires me to Love my Neighbor as Myself.

Go out and do something for someone else today – a sheer act of grace – in between thoughts.

And as much as we tend to roll our eyes at those Christians who constantly talk of our eternal rest and whatnot, they have the right perspective: our time here is fleeting. Make the most of it. Stop worrying about horse feathers and small potatoes and go do something to help others.

I’d be willing to bet you’re a damn sight better off than most, in every way. Don’t hold back.

#13 Comment By Roland de Chanson On November 14, 2012 @ 1:42 pm

I think you are suffering from nostalgie de la France! You can’t have already run out of all those bonbons and delicacies you brought back.

♫ J’ai deux amours … mon pays et Paris. ♫

#14 Comment By John E_o On November 14, 2012 @ 1:45 pm

It’s a lot more difficult to figure out how you’re going to get through today without despair.

You seem to be in good health, you seem to have a happy marriage, you seem to be a good parent to a well-adjusted family, and you make a good living doing work you enjoy.

From whence comes this despair?

#15 Comment By Sam M On November 14, 2012 @ 2:01 pm

Rod,

I am serious about this: I wonder if you should read more fiction?

What I mean is, the act of reading fiction entails gleaning something universal and important out of a story. Yes, the story is important, but only to the extent that it helps us get at larger truthsm, and propels us to continue thinking about the underlying issue.

The same thing needs to happen at the Drug Store. Not that every single interaction is War and Peace. But there is something to be said for listening to something that’s on the surface and digging into why it matters.

We study the universal in order to make SENSE of the moment. The moment is what it’s actually about.

#16 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On November 14, 2012 @ 2:19 pm

From whence comes this despair?

Can’t speak for Rod, but for a heathen such as myself existential despair is always a potential risk. Everything is ultimately impermanent, and we live with the knowledge that decay and death of the people we love is inevitable.

However, there’s nothing I can do to change this reality and dwelling on it robs me of the present moment which is all I really have. So it’s best to try to live in the present and not dwell on the future.

Oddly I’m not concerned about my own mortality because I agree with Epicurus. We can’t experience our own death, so the death of oneself is irrelevant to the human condition.

#17 Comment By Rod Dreher On November 14, 2012 @ 2:29 pm

You seem to be in good health, you seem to have a happy marriage, you seem to be a good parent to a well-adjusted family, and you make a good living doing work you enjoy.

From whence comes this despair?

Oh, I’m not depressed or anything; it’s more of a philosophical despair, and it’s episodic with me. I’m congenitally restless. Percy said that “not to be on to something is to be in despair.” I’m always trying to be on to something, and I really do get excited by ideas. What I struggle with is learning how to live in what my wife calls “ordinary time.” With me, it’s always either the fast or the feast. I struggle to learn how to live quietly, in the moment. Why is it that when I’m walking through Paris by myself, I can pray meditatively on my prayer rope, and I’m lost in that moment … but when I’m sitting in the comfort of my home, in my nice leather chair, with quiet all around me, my mind cannot be still enough to pray more than a few minutes?

My sister said all the time, “You think too much.” True. My great temptation is to think, not to do; to seem, not to be.

#18 Comment By Susan D. On November 14, 2012 @ 2:37 pm

Speaking of devotionals and quietude–there’s a lovely little book called The Quiet Eye: A Way of Looking at Pictures, by Syliva Shaw Judson. It couples works of art with quotations from various sources. Just spending time looking and meditating on the images and brief writings eases the sensation of being overwhelmed with the noise of everyday life.

#19 Comment By Melanie On November 14, 2012 @ 2:43 pm

The more we actually become like Jesus the more ‘everydayness’ will become doable and even a joy. We have to be all things to ALL men, not just our peers and intellectual or cultural equals. It takes dying to self to get us into our “hometown diner” or over to “old so-and-so’s house”, to visit that neighbor who is oh so annoying….or (insert mind numbing, irritating scenario of your choice). Practically speaking, becoming like Jesus in being self-sacrificing, welcoming, gracious, and a servant to all will not happen over night. I think we take it one tiny step at a time and gradually, (prayerfully) get there.

#20 Comment By cecelia On November 14, 2012 @ 2:50 pm

part of it for me is realistic expectations – I no longer think I should have this great feeling of the Lord’s presence all the time – after all – there is life’s work to be done and sometimes that is all that can exist in my heart/mind. But I do find that there are moments – just about everyday – when I feel strongly the presence of love in my life. I think one should savor those moments. But even those restless moments are okay for me – after all – it really is unlikely that one is always going to feel the sublime.

I do think two things are important for me – I start my day with a gratitude list – I actually used to write it down but now that I have established the habit I can do it in my head. this creates a sense of awareness for me that allows me to ignore many of the petty stuff and be appreciative. This may sound so corny but – Isahia – “This is the day the Lord has given you – rejoice and be glad”. It is my all time favorite quote from the Bible and I embroidered it and framed it – it hangs on the door so when I leave each morning I see it. does wonders to sort of set my mind on the right track.

#21 Comment By John E_o On November 14, 2012 @ 2:51 pm

Oh, I’m not depressed or anything; it’s more of a philosophical despair, and it’s episodic with me.

Oh, that’s all right then.

I find that a good breakfast goes a long way towards warding off that sort of philosophical/existential despair.

#22 Comment By Pat On November 14, 2012 @ 4:16 pm

Knit. Or whittle, mend nets, whatever routine task you can carry with you into the places where the folks you’d like to be in touch with congregate. Keep the hands busy, and the mind will be happy to listen to whatever’s going on around you.

#23 Comment By Elizabeth Anne On November 14, 2012 @ 6:49 pm

Rod, do you think this is one reason that you’re drawn towards apocalyptic thinking and the “Grand gestures”? And I mean that kindly; I’m overly prone to anecdotal thinking myself, which is why I recognize it in you. You have a tendency, from what I’ve seen in your blog posts, to look for single etiological “big ideas”, and I wonder that a lot of the frustration you experience with the commentariat is that they aren’t seeing the Big Idea you are.

#24 Comment By em On November 14, 2012 @ 11:43 pm

I think the fast or the feast is the purest way to live a life. Whatever your state, joy or dispassionate gloom, you are fully experiencing it, and it can give life to the most wonderful fruits that remain unapparent or unmanifested to the easy middle road that would treat all moments the same.

We pray in everything we are doing, every action and every breath. In times or temperaments where those collected moments that transcend thought do not come as frequently or easily, there is no need to compare oneself to others, receive criticism from others, or feel discontented that so many reflections fill one’s head, demand attention and life. I think God knows what he’s doing with each of us. Absent of sin or harm to others, restlessness is beautiful fuel of continued growth.

#25 Comment By Sands On November 15, 2012 @ 10:55 pm

I love being still. I have a somewhat hectic schedule sometimes and the kids can fill this house a lot of noise. But for my sanity I really need some quite time alone.

Here’s what I do several times a month. I set the alarm and wake up a few hours before everyone else, make coffee, and just sit in the dark. I think about a lot of things, but mainly about good memories of people that have either gone on or I just don’t see much anymore.

On full moon nights, with the moon light beaming through a large second
story window, and my grandfathers old clock ticking, I’m at complete peace.

What good are a lifetime of memories if you’re never still long enough to reflect on them?