The Practice of Loud Time

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I’ve been thinking a lot about how much of Christian spirituality overvalues the distinctly spiritual and undervalues the physical. There are plenty of reasons why this is, but one of them, I’m convinced, is because we’ve silenced or tuned out the voices of people who live an embodied spirituality — women.

Think about it. When you think of great historic Christians who influenced your understanding of spirituality, who comes to mind? Lots of men, who, even if married or fathers, dedicated themselves to full-time ministry or contemplation. Maybe some women, most likely single and dedicated to a life of celibacy and contemplation. People whose days revolve around thinking, reading, praying, silence, solitude. These are the people in our pulpits and seminaries and historical narratives.

The only spiritual experiences we hear are of those whose vocation sets them apart from the physical world as much as possible. Is it any wonder that when we want a closer walk with God, we think that quiet, solitude, contemplation, and Scriptural study are not merely critical components of devotion but THE THINGS that comprise a relationship with God?

Take the ubiquitous quiet time. We’re told that’s God’s time. That’s the place we meet God. If you don’t have that in your life as the TOP PRIORITY, are you even a Christian?

Jamie Wright, in The Very Worst Missionary, recounts her visceral reaction to a Christian mom’s group that encouraged young mothers to give up even more sleep to find quiet time with Jesus. The group was shocked at Jamie’s treasonous insistence that for these moms, sleep was more important than quiet time. But Jamie wanted to know why quiet time had to be quiet.

[W]hen the group leader made that little quip about quiet time needing to be quiet, an unexpected volcano of molten outrage burst forth from the depths of my soul. …

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, then call it ‘loud time’! Call it ‘chaos time.’ Call it what it’s supposed to be, which is ‘intentional time’! … I will not be getting up any earlier. Nope. I’m gonna honor God intentionally in my sleep, because I’m pretty sure God wants me to be the very best mother I can possibly be to my boys. I will listen for God’s voice in the wilderness, and at the water park, and under McDonald’s indoor play structure, because that is my daily loud time and God is faithful to meet me in the chaos” (pages 83-85).

As that mom group demonstrates, the female spiritual life is mostly about how to fit the vocation of the celibate, the contemplative, and the clergy into the insanely busy, physical, exhausting vocations of mom, wife, and housekeeper. Our spiritual reflections are on how to carve out a quiet time or wade through a busy season of life until you can get to another season with more quiet time. Hang in there!

There’s often a sense that our work is meaningful and eternal and spiritual, but only because of its future implications. We’re the cradle-rocking hand that rocks the world — that is, all our work matters because it raises kids who will change the world. We’re the great women behind the great men — our work matters because it enables men to do great spiritual things.

And that’s true. Behind every man who “dedicates his life to God” (as if laypeople don’t), there’s another person — most likely a woman — keeping him fed and cleaning his toilet.

What we women need to realize is that this work matters and is spiritual and eternally significant not just because it enables “greater” spiritual work. This is spiritual work. It is intrinsically meaningful because the human body and the everyday good life are intrinsically meaningful.

Redemption involves saving human souls and also tidying up the living room, bringing order to chaos, bringing balance and beauty to every aspect of life. Traditional women’s work is not lesser, merely a stepping stone to greater spiritual things. It is as great and as meaningful and as dedicated to God as joining a convent or taking priestly vows or shipping off to China as a missionary.

One of the church’s strengths is drawing from the experience of people with different vocations. I’m certainly not advocating that women shouldn’t listen to those with time and energy to contemplate, pray, and study, or that they shouldn’t try to incorporate these practices and insights into their own lives. I’m saying it should go both ways.

The everyday, physical, mundane spiritual practices women have faithfully lived for millennia are critical for a relationship with God. Women’s spiritual lives give unique insight into what it means to live an embodied spirituality. Our experience as mothers provides transformative information about the nature of God as love and about a sacrificial life. What other normal Christian experiences physical, emotional, and mental sacrifices than pregnant, nursing, and primary caretaking mothers? Getting up to a day full of exciting things like scrubbing the bathtub and wiping snotty noses forms the soul in unique ways. Dutifully doing things that must be done again the next day (or five minutes later) teaches us how to live with hope of the resurrection and restoration of all things, in defiance of the fallen world’s decay. There’s no better way of understanding sin and grace and salvation than raising children with love and patience.

The holy practices of cleaning, waiting for a slow toddler, budgeting, driving to a chorus of “are we there yet?” — these things are not only a meaningful, transformative spiritual experience for the women who live them, they are meaningful, transformative spiritual practices for everyone. Even the contemplatives, the celibate, and the clergy.

It is patently false that the contemplatives, the celibate, and the clergy have the edge on spirituality. That is not how an embodied, incarnational Christian spirituality works. All of us need the spiritual experience of women who are too busy and tired from motherhood and homemaking to preach sermons or write blog posts. Not just to hear how on earth they find quiet time for Jesus every morning at the crack of dawn, but how they practice loud time and how we can practice it too.

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3 thoughts on “The Practice of Loud Time

  1. Sharon

    I’m struggling with the idea that “Traditional women’s work is … as great and as meaningful and as dedicated to God as joining a convent or taking priestly vows or shipping off to China as a missionary.”

    It’s not that I necessarily disagree, really, it’s that it almost sounds too good to be true. (Part of me hopes it’s true anyway because “traditional women’s work” feels much more attainable to me at this point in my life than becoming a nun or a missionary! ;)

    But I guess my line of reasoning goes something like this: I don’t believe all sins are equally bad, so I have trouble believing that all good deeds are equally good. If I can’t believe that stealing a piece of gum is just as bad and deserving of the same punishment as murder, I also feel like I can’t believe, on the “good” side, that mopping my kitchen floor is worth just as much to God as doing humanitarian work in a poor community or something like that. I guess how many people are helped in the first scenario vs. the second factors somewhat into my value judgment there. Which may or may not be the right way of thinking about it. Am I making any sense with that?

    I do agree though that loads of quiet, “contemplative” time isn’t the be-all end-all for Christians. In the Bible, “followers of Jesus” seem to me like they were all (or mostly) pretty busy, “everyday” types of people, not primarily “thinkers” or “mystics.”

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    • Bailey Steger

      That line of reasoning makes perfect sense to me within that concept of good and bad, but it doesn’t resonate with me anymore. I’m trying to piece together why.

      I think it’s because we’re comparing parts to wholes. For instance, it’s not fair to compare mopping the floor of one’s house to “humanitarian work in a poor community” as a whole. That’s comparing a part of one calling (being an individual or being a parent) to the whole of another calling (working with the poor). Humanitarian work might involve mopping floors too. Is mopping the floor at a soup kitchen more spiritual than mopping up a soup spill at home? I have a hard time quantifying that as “better,” as both are needed.

      It’s also unfair, I think, to compare our individual calling to the whole of what the body of Christ is called to do (which encompasses WAY TOO MUCH for any one individual to do well all the time). Maybe in some sense taking care of our own kids doesn’t seem as important or as spiritual or as sacrificial as caring for kids in greater need. But it must be done and done well, knowing that this work is placed in the context of the work the entire body of Christ is doing. I think of Paul’s analogy of the body: are some gifts greater than others? In some ways, yes, but where would the brain and the eyes and the heart be without all the different body parts and all the different parts of those parts? The whole thing could cease functioning well if just one small part gets infected or injured.

      That’s why I think it’s important to situate our work within the whole body of Christ, instead of viewing us as merely individuals. Maybe traditional women’s work doesn’t accomplish as earth-shattering of things as evangelism or whatever, but if it’s not done or not done well, the church and the world suffers. And that’s also why I think that we need to be very sensitive to God’s call, be it little or large, and not feel guilty because we’re not called to something else that’s more popular in contemporary Christianity right now, like a social justice leader or an evangelist or whatever it is that we feel guilty we’re not. And we also mustn’t disparage other people’s work either. It’s all needed, and it all matters, even if there is some sort of scale of “greater” or “lesser.”

      Jesus uses so many different parables to emphasize that even the smallest thing done in love and faithfulness matters. The importance is not on whether we have five talents or four or just one; the important thing is if we’re faithful with those talents.

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