You can almost hear the silence. The milkmaid is quiet, so quiet, and time is suspended as she pours milk.
The hands work while the mind thinks.
Is it a life of drudgery, or is it a gift–her trivial chore a window into eternity, time to think, to pray, to look out of the window into God?
Vermeer’s women lose themselves in: housework. It glows! Is this domesticity? Can it be? That’s the way I want to live my life, slowly, tranquilly, not fighting the irrelevant relevant, the distracting, trivial and necessary tasks of my days, but embracing them as an oasis of contemplation in which desert flowers may bloom.I gaze at Vermeer’s women. I trust things that help me lose track of time–reading, writing, gardening, hiking, the sea, art galleries, prayer, good movies, good conversation.
Vermeer’s paintings, poems one might say, on the radiance of domesticity are more moving when we learn of the hurly-burly of his household–a wife, eleven children, and a feisty mother-in-law.
Those paintings that could have been called “Shanti, shanti, shanti” or “Tranquility” are probably sighs of yearning, images of an elusive Eden. They hint how manual work–if used as time for contemplation–might be redeemed.
I now view the trivial necessary tasks of life which I used to bitterly resent—as (in small doses) gifts: time to pray, time to seek direction, time to worship, time to sense God’s love.
I am reading Pete Greig’s Red Moon Rising about the birth of 24/7 prayer movement in Britain. “Pray constantly,” the exhortation of the apostle Paul has challenged and puzzled us through the centuries.
As my life grows busier, I relish these accidental windows into prayer: rooms to be tidied, gardens to be weeded, laundry to be sorted, little windy passages into contemplation, to situating myself again in the love of God, and finding peace.