“Dusting is important for saving the world.”
~ Leila Lawler & Elizabeth Foss
That was the quote from the Chapter 3 Summer in the Little Oratory podcast that most caught my attention. And it also brought back to mind a story filed away in my to-blog-about-one-day folder. Finally, a reason to talk about DUSTING! The story goes a little like this…
One Saturday morning a few weeks back I headed across town to Des Moines’ Southside and attended morning Mass and confession at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. St. Anthony’s is a 100+ year-old parish, initially founded in 1906 to serve the ever-growing influx of Italian immigrants in the south-side of Des Moines. The parish truly serves as a Catholic social institution for the greater Des Moines area, and the church continues to recognize and celebrate its Italian identity, especially through its sacred art, devotions, and celebrations.
Just take a look at its altar and sanctuary.
After Mass that Saturday morning, several Mass-goers made way to the line for confession. At the same time, a group of women congregated near the altar — well, it was mostly women, but I think a man or two might have joined in — and they collectively began to clean the church. Some vacuumed, some polished, others organized. Then there was the woman with the dusting cloth and feather duster who caught my attention.
The confession line was long, a good “problem” I suppose, and I was holding up the end of it. As I waited and watched the woman with her dusting cloth and duster, I was calmed by her reverent approach to a rather mundane task. She approached the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue and carefully wiped down its surfaces, lovingly touching up Jesus’s face and head with the duster. Then she moved to the candles, carefully picking up each one, wiping down the glass holder, and then putting back just so. As she made her way across the sanctuary and crossed the altar, she stopped and made a profound bow. A visual reminder that no matter if we’re dusting or worshipping, a sacred space is always a sacred space. Then she headed toward Mary and took proper care of her, then St. Anthony of Padua, and onto many other icons and sacramentals located throughout the church.
I wondered if she prayed while she worked. Did she offer a “Sacred Heart of Jesus, in your mercy, hear my prayer,” when polishing Jesus’s Sacred Heart? Was the Hail Mary whispered on her lips as she tended to Mary? Maybe she prayed for the return of something lost as she looked into St. Anthony’s eyes?
As I waited and waited (that line was long!), I began to wonder why I didn’t approach dusting in the same fashion. Is it because I dread dusting? Maybe it’s because the stuff in my house doesn’t have as much meaning as the “stuff” inside that church. Or is it I’m just lazy? Ungrateful for the material possessions in my home?
Enter Chapter 3 of The Little Oratory. The authors talk a bit about care and maintenance of not only the items of the little oratory but general upkeep of the entire home.
“A lot of people don’t understand what dusting is, as funny as that seems; they may have the idea that dusting is the vague flicking of particles into the air with a feather duster, and consequently their decorating, holy and otherwise, suffers.”
The book continues on and shares a routine of sorts for dusting and polishing items within your little oratory and beyond. Leila talked more about this thought in the podcast.
“I think it’s interesting that today we have all sorts of routines and details for things like working out at the gym … little ways of doing things that don’t relate to the home, and we’re very on top of all the details that go into those things. But when it comes to the home, there’s a whole body of knowledge we’ve just lost. And so consequently, when it comes time to doing those things, we just can’t see ourselves doing them.”
I’m wondering, though … is it that we don’t know how to dust, as Leila suggests? In part, probably. But I think at the heart of this reality, at least for me, is that homes are filled with so much stuff. Much of that stuff having no significance other than maybe we bought it simply because it was cheap at Ikea. I recently heard a quote that from 1970 to 2000, the average size of a new house in America has almost doubled even while the average family size has gotten smaller. So what are we putting in all that extra space if not for people? Stuff and more stuff. And maybe a couple of dogs and their stuff.
I’ve somewhat seriously suggested to Joel time and again that I wouldn’t mind starting fresh, to downsize on purpose. Consider it a forced decluttering of sorts, to consciously break the cycle of putting more stuff into our home. It would certainly help us be selective about the stuff we surround ourselves with, what we have out on display, and what we have away in storage for holidays and the like.
While a forced decluttering might not be in the works (God willing), we can take earnest steps toward that goal by simply removing and donating stuff that we truly don’t need. If we do this well, our entire home then becomes an extension of our little oratory. If we can make that happen, shoot, I might just begin to enjoy dusting. So as for dusting changing the world, well, I don’t know about the whole world, but doing all this will surely change ours.
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So now for the good news! I’ve been holding on to a free copy of The Little Oratory for several weeks. Given it’s my birthday, now seems like a great opportunity to launch the giveaway and celebrate by passing along a book that I believe is a must-have reference book for every Catholic home. Added bonus, you’ll learn some great dusting tips to help change the world!