Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women's Work

Rate this book
The bestselling author of The Cloister Walk reflects on the sanctifying possibilities of everyday work and how God is present in worship and liturgy as well as in ordinary life. Definitely not “for women only.” †

89 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1998

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Kathleen Norris

205 books403 followers
Kathleen Norris was born on July 27, 1947 in Washington, D.C. She grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, as well as on her maternal grandparents’ farm in Lemmon, South Dakota.

Her sheltered upbringing left her unprepared for the world she encountered when she began attending Bennington College in Vermont. At first shocked by the unconventionality surrounding her, Norris took refuge in poetry.

After she graduated in 1969, she moved to New York City where she joined the arts scene, associated with members of the avant-garde movement including Andy Warhol, and worked for the American Academy of Poets.

In 1974, her grandmother died leaving Norris the family farm in South Dakota, and she and her future husband, the poet David Dwyer, decided to temporarily relocate there until arrangements to rent or sell the property could be made. Instead, they ended up remaining in South Dakota for the next 25 years.

Soon after moving to the rural prairie, Norris developed a relationship with the nearby Benedictine abbey, which led to her eventually becoming an oblate.

In 2000, Norris and her husband traded their farmhouse on the Great Plains for a condo in Honolulu, Hawaii, so that Norris could help care for her aging parents after her husband’s own failing health no longer permitted him to travel. Her father died in 2002, and her husband died the following year in 2003.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
724 (35%)
4 stars
757 (36%)
3 stars
429 (20%)
2 stars
126 (6%)
1 star
24 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 288 reviews
Profile Image for Fergus, Quondam Happy Face.
971 reviews17.6k followers
February 20, 2023
This book is a rich tapestry of humble reflections on the ways in which our ordinary lives, with all their rapid variations in mood, contain seeds of eternity.

I know of no other current writer who so expertly captures the movement of our everyday thoughts!

Kathleen Norris' book on mundane magic was one of my first on my Kindle.

At first, her many incredible segues into apparently unrelated reverie put me off. I guess I was still conditioned by the rigid bureaucratic protocol of my long time office career.

I couldn't easily digest her incessant detours!

As I eased into retirement, though, her meditative and relaxed mode of thinking started to rub off - as I collected more of her thought-provoking thought-journeys into contemplative writing.

And now as I reread this, in fact one of her most recent works (and a quick immersion-baptism into her writings for wannabe readers) years after the first reading I find - yikes! - that I constantly echo her digressive style in my own reviews.

Kathleen has quite a few stories to tell. Her beginnings as a celebrated South Dakotan poet, her Ivy League education, her childhood and later years in Hawaii...

And, on the darker side, her own and her husband's battle with depression, his tragic early death, and her resolution of this darkness in her own bridge-building between the Presbyterian and Catholic churches - embracing them both, and appreciating the way each tradition resonates within her soul.

But this book succeeds in being fairly breezy, entertaining and easy to read.

Its title reminds me of the tale of a reluctant young girl in Atwood’s The Edible Woman, who has a young male friend who finds a Zen-like value in the drudgery of ironing!

Why are we always too BUSY to appreciate the variety of emotions in our mundane, everyday lives? - for you know, THAT’s the place we’ll rediscover our own true selves.

And the sense of the Holy!

WHY do we despise these - our simple Unplugged Selves?

They are the only possible venue for a life that’s REAL. We have to start in the Basement of our life and work our way slowly on up.

And dwell first on our subterranean storage spaces - for there are Treasures deep within us.

And our simple, Unplugged, stream-of-thought meditations while immersed in simple tasks like the laundry, at the lower level of our life, can reveal new Vistas of Thought!

If you want to find meaning in your life, look no further: you’ll find it in Norris’ nonstop desultory movement: a movement with hidden meaning.

Slow DOWN - DARE to be what you are, not something you produce out of a hat for an apparently appreciative audience at the merest, faintest cheer, or out of your blaring earplugs.

Get down to your grassroots, below the weeds of elation or depression and your longtime self-imposed exile from Value!

Life’s not a game. It’s a deep, heartfelt reality - when it is REAL.

Don’t let YOUR life go by in a flash...

And MISS it all!

For now, I'll simply let Ms Norris herself sum up the book for you:

"We want our life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing and even ecstasy, but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are, not where we wish we were. We must look for blessings to come from unlikely, everyday places."

Four full stars for a minor masterpiece! I think you'll love it as much as I do - I will return to it again and again in my own reading.
Profile Image for Melinda.
748 reviews53 followers
August 1, 2018
2018 -- Re-reading this book. Still worthwhile.... glad I re-read it.

2010 -- This is actually the first book I read by Kathleen Norris, because I found the title intriguing. It is the text of a lecture the author gave in 1998 that was sponsored by the Center for Spirituality at Saint Mary's College at Notre Dame.

"Quotidian means occurring every day, belonging to every day; commonplace, ordinary."

The author finds that, like Therese of Lisieux, Christ was most abundantly present to her not "during my hours of prayer... but rather in the midst of my daily occupations" (quote from "Story of a Soul" by Therese of Lisieux). God cares about the least of our daily tasks. Jesus instructed us in the Lord's Prayer to pray for our daily bread. So making bread is important. Jesus knelt and washed the feet of his disciples. Serving others is important. Serving through cleaning, doing laundry, preparing a meal. These are all signs of caring, signs of serving others, indications of our love for those we do them for.

These are the types of tasks that are never done. And they shouldn't. Who wants to say, "well, I cooked and served you this wonderful meal to show I care. Now you know, so I never need to do it again." Or, "I've washed and ironed your clothes. That means I love you. Now you know, so I don't need to do this ever again for you, because you know." You eat, but are hungry again. You wash, but the clothes get dirty and need to be laundered again. These are quotidian things. And doing them over and over again demonstrates our love and our care. Because of that, ordinary tasks become holy tasks that transform us. Carrying out holy work makes us holy because we are serving others. Contrary to conventional thought, cooking and cleaning for others does not make us less intelligent or less important or less significant. What God does to us and with us and through us as we carry out seemingly unimportant tasks is the quotidian mystery.

Liturgy, like laundry, is never done. You don't just do it once and are finished. It is ongoing. And participating in it repeatedly and regularly transforms us into the image of Christ, suitable for holy work. Even the holy work of serving others in quotidian tasks.
Profile Image for Virginia.
1,071 reviews
December 20, 2011
It's hard for me to rate such a simple and thought-provoking book. Mostly because my brain just isn't wired (lately, anyway) to absorb as much as possible from Norris's contemplative narrative. It was a simultaneous case of being chock-full truth nuggets and meandering narrative full of images and prose. In short, I think I'm too dense for this book.

Truly, I want to be deep and philosophical enough to understand the nuances of this book and to be able to translate it in a review. However, that far surpasses my ability as a student and writer! All I can say is that I read about this book on a Christian blog that extolled the virtues of repetitive "women's work" and it rang particularly close to home for me. After all, I spend all day taking care of a toddler and doing dishes about a million times. I do laundry almost every other day and I spend most of my day picking up after (or encouraging my son to) my little boy.

Mostly, I took comfort in the idea that our daily work of laundry, cooking, cleaning as being worship and holy. That what we do to take care of ourselves and others can be both an act of indifference or an act of supreme love. That the work that can seem contemptful in the eyes of "feminists" is actually a beautiful and vital thing, that makes me happy and joyful. After all, who wants 90% of what they do all day to be deemed as lowly or simple?

ETA: It's been about seven months since I read this book and it is still with me. I find myself referencing this book often when discussing being a mom as well as just reflecting on my day to day activities. In light of this, even though the writing is dense and perhaps not my style, the ideas are worth adding an extra star to 4 stars. This book has changed my life and perspective.
Profile Image for Kristen.
465 reviews84 followers
February 9, 2010
Kathleen Norris' little book about "laundry, liturgy and 'women's work'" is a must read for anyone who struggles to see the value in repetitive tasks. Quotidian is a word from the Latin meaning daily or ordinary, and in our society where we feel measured by our output, these everyday things like laundry, cooking and dishes can be very discouraging to those who do them day in and day out. It might also be a good read for a spouse who has trouble understanding exactly what their partner does day in and day out. The author is not a stay-at-home mother, so homemakers who work in or outside the home, with or without children, will all relate to her insights. It's a work that is short and very readable, having been delivered as a lecture series, but also thought provoking and deep. I expect that I will be coming back to it again in years to come, for encouragement and insight to sustain me in my daily work.
Profile Image for Rosie.
29 reviews
January 13, 2016
A few good things to think about but I found a few things off-putting 1) analyzing and explaining her own poetry 2) lots of explaining why she doesn't have kids, just not sure how this relates and seemed defensive 3) I don't begrudge her not having children, but it's hard to feel that someone who doesn't cook (yes she bakes bread), only does laundry for 2, and is a freelance writer is much of an "authority" on domestic drudgery. Only people like she and Barbara Brown Taylor (another with no kids) seem to relish hanging laundry outside in the wet freezing winter. She even admits herself that other readers have questioned her credibility. Still appreciated the few nuggets of wisdom and perspective and her lovely ways of putting things, and I did feel some inspiration to "keep at it" but for a short volume it could have been clearer and stronger.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
342 reviews33 followers
August 18, 2017
I really, really wanted to love this slim volume about something which is so close to my heart (how everyday tasks can be worship), and although there were several passages that stood out to me, overall I only liked it. I wasn't really into the analysis of her own poetry, which seemed odd to me, and the language was a bit flowery for my taste. But it was a quick and immersive read, and I would recommend it for contemplation.
Profile Image for Mimi.
1,510 reviews
May 13, 2021
I kind of feel odd counting this as a book read, it is the text of a lecture Norris gave in 1998. However, she speaks beautifully about the idea of Liturgy being work, and how that translates into the daily work we do to keep house.
Profile Image for Lauren Fee.
231 reviews8 followers
January 5, 2021
3.5 stars for me on this one. I liked this book, but I didn't love it like I thought I would. I am fully prepared to use the excuse of "It's not you, it's me." Perhaps, I am in a weird funk and would appreciate it more in a different season. What I did like about it was the call to savor the mundane. One of my favorite quotes in the book was, "What we dread as mindless activity can free us, mind and heart, for the workings of the Holy Spirit, and repetitive motions are conducive to devotions." I liked the call to redeem the mindless work for prayer and praise. What bugged me early on was that I think we have a different theology of work. There seems to be an underlying assumption that God gave us work to do as punishment for our disobedience in Eden whereas I believe there was stewarding, repetitive work to be done before the Fall. We were made for it and we glorify God by doing it. I also kept waiting for her to say that faithfulness in our quotidian work mirrors our Creator incarnate who not only took the form of a servant, but faithfully causes the sun to set and rise everyday, etc. She never really went there with it and I think I personally find that knowledge more motivating in my daily mundane tasks. But, I think I could be wrong for coming to the text with so much expectation and perhaps that limited me from fully appreciating her musings. So happy that this book is so encouraging for many, but for me, other books and ideas have spurred me on more fully to face a sink full of dishes or a load full of laundry...again.
14 reviews
August 30, 2022
an elegant exaltation of a God whose sanctuary includes the laundry room, the kitchen sink, and the winding roads of a the unsuspecting feminine life. i found Norris’ monastic reflections tending to my busy heart like a memorized hymn throughout the chaos of my days. modernity does not need more innovation; it needs more songs to sing that will remind us that the ordinary liturgy of housework has already been sanctified by Jesus
Profile Image for Skylar Burris.
Author 20 books230 followers
July 24, 2012
This book is basically an expanded, poetic expression of the more concise thought we find in the epistles: “Whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not as unto men.” Now I’ve long been familiar with that Bible verse. I’ve thought about it, and I’ve tried to apply it, but I’ve never succeeded. Yet thinking of work – particularly the repetitive work that is never finished because it must be done anew every day – as a kind of liturgy has been quite helpful to me. Before reading this book, I never thought to think of laundry and making beds and washing dishes and caring for the children in quite that way, but as a stay-at-home mother, it’s a useful perspective to have. I don’t have a problem with repeating the same words in church every week; yes, sometimes it can seem dull, but I don’t question it’s value, the way I and society so often question the value of “women’s work.” I understand the purpose of liturgy – the work it is meant to do on the soul, the self-discipline it is meant to create, the way it roots us to others, the way one can find new meaning in old words and old actions at unexpected times. It simply hadn’t occurred to me that “women’s work” can do those same things. This is not to say I am now in love with domestic drudgery, but it has for me given more meaning to the work society too often belittles and made it feel like less of a drudgery.

Because I read this book as part of an excellent small group discussion at my church, it’s hard for me to rate. I always benefit more from the discussions themselves than from the books we read, so I’m not sure I’m giving credit where credit is due, so I settled on four stars.

This is a quick read, but only because it’s so short. I wouldn’t say it’s easy. I don’t consider myself to be particularly deficient in vocabulary, but I felt I needed to have a dictionary next to me at all times while reading. It contains some of the author's poetry as well as some verses from other poets, and poetry also requires effort to read.
Profile Image for Rachel B.
773 reviews40 followers
September 5, 2022
3.5 stars

This is a brief little book that discusses the value of daily life, particularly those chores deemed "woman's work." I enjoyed it overall, found it thought-provoking and calming, and I think a reread in the next year or so will help me to process some of this a bit better.

There were a few things I disagreed with, or didn't love:

I thought it strange that the author made several comments alluding to the idea that everyone gets married. It would seem that as a childless woman herself, she would recognize that not everyone fits a mold in that way.

The author is definitely Catholic, so some Catholic ideas bled through, and there were verses quoted from the Apocrypha. The author states that (human) marriage is eternal (rather than ending at death, which is what the Bible teaches), and talks about how Christians are brides/spouses of Christ, whereas the Bible doesn't claim that each individual Christian is a bride of Christ. This would mean that Christ has multiple brides and is polyamorous, which He is not. The Bible is clear that all Christians, together as one entity, united, are the Bride of Christ.

The author includes several of her own poems and I just wasn't crazy about the poems at all. I'm not a fan of poetry, generally speaking, and when I do read poetry, I want it to rhyme and be easy to follow the narrative. These didn't fit my criteria for decent poetry.

But, I did like it and appreciated much of what the author had to say. It's so short that it would be easy to recommend, as well.
Profile Image for Amy Edwards.
279 reviews17 followers
January 3, 2017
I give this three and a half stars. Parts of it I really loved--and other parts I really disliked. However, the main theme of the book resonates with me, and I will approach my daily living with a different perspective now.

Contemporary life leaves little time for contemplation, and contemplation is little valued. Yet I am valuing it more than ever. I appreciated this book's encouragement to approach the daily tasks of life as liturgy and time to contemplate the grace of God in my life's circumstances, the glory of creation, and the truths of His Word.
Profile Image for Kyle McManamy.
169 reviews8 followers
July 10, 2018
Such a rich (and short) exploration of the spiritual value of ordinary things. Like Brother Lawrence's work, but taken from a different vantage point, Norris' 1998 Madeleva lecture points the way to how we can have the wonder of children and the blessing of sages while putting another load in the wash.

A special thanks to Drew Norris whose love of this book led to my reading of it.
Profile Image for Gypsy Madre.
36 reviews1 follower
April 21, 2015
Once again - Kathleen delivers! A quickish read that refreshed my viewpoint. She restates, in her subterranean, poetic way all the things I know (or at least suspect) and I always walk away lighter, believing life is a a little more beautiful. We don't agree on every theological tittle but I can handle it.
A gem.
Profile Image for Elaine.
495 reviews45 followers
June 24, 2016
Lots of great things to ponder about keeping a home. I love how she saw the priests cleaning up after communion as "doing the dishes."
Profile Image for Summer.
1,383 reviews15 followers
March 7, 2018
One of the homeschooling ladies I follow on Instagram at one point mentioned this book on a day when I was particularly grumbling about housework and how it is NEVER done!

I decided to purchase this 88 page book written off of a lecture Norris did. I am very glad I did. It has helped me in so many ways change the way I feel about the every day tasks that have to be done and redone every day and the gift in that. Very thankful.

I believe she is Catholic?!? So there were parts of prayers or types of service she mentioned that I didn’t know about but even with that being said, a great book to grapple with as I sweep, mop, vacuum, wash laundry, dry laundry, and fold and put away laundry, and do the best I can in those little jobs. Lots of encouragement and food for thought. And our kitchen sink has been clear of dishes more nights than not as a result! 😉

Quotidian: everyday, common place.

Quote from the book: “It is a paradox of human life that in worship, as in human love, it is in the routine and the every-day that we find the possibilities for the greatest transformation. Both worship and housework often seem perfunctory. And both, by the grace of God, may be anything but. At its Latin root, perfunctory means “to get through with,” and we can easily see how liturgy, laundry and what has traditionally been conceived of as ‘women’s work’ can be done in that indifferent spirit. But the joke is on us: what we think we are only ‘getting through’ has the power to change us, just as we have the power to transform what seems meaningless- the endless repetitions of a litany or the motions of vacuuming a floor. What we dread as mindless activity can free us, mind and heart, for the workings of the Holy Spirit, and anything is fair game for prayer, anything or anyone who pops into he mind can be included.”
Profile Image for Jordan Carlson.
211 reviews20 followers
February 4, 2020
“...what we think we are only “getting through” has the power to change us...”

Maybe I should rate this 5 stars.

Norris is maybe not someone I would go to church with, but I found myself so moved by this 88-page wonder. I may just restart it today. She reminds me a bit of Madeleine l’Engle, bringing her considerable intellect and imagination to bear on some of life’s most precious and troubling issues, and she does so with intimate memoir-musings, theological thoughts, and more.

I found an unexpected “grip” for my own acedia (a word I didn’t know until reading this book), and some fuel for fighting this winter’s depression in these pages. Ideally I would begin copying quotes from it into my commonplace book now, but I found too many quotable/highlighted thoughts here...
79 reviews
December 27, 2020
I was not expecting to gain such insight! It was filled with so many layered vignettes- part memoir, part spiritual inspiration, part tribute to a monastic lifestyle which breathe in deep appreciation for all things ordinary, yet profoundly holy. This was a contemplative piece that despite only 88pages took a while to read through to absorb all of layers. This did not truly peak my interest until around page 44 due to the writing structure which lacked transitions. It often felt like a long run on sentence. At that halfway point, I soaked in her style and added this to my list of something to reread many times in my life. This book could grow with you through many different seasons of life.
Profile Image for Liz.
129 reviews
March 27, 2019
I was hoping for a book truly connecting the unending nature of laundry and dishes to worship. However, this book missed the mark for me. It mostly contained the various ramblings of the author many of which were not fully developed and abruptly jumped from one to another. I also really struggled with a part when the author seemingly wrote off therapy completely and said the focus should be on spiritual work. Maybe she didn’t mean it this way, but I’m very wary of anything that speaks in absolutes. We as church need to recognize there is very much a place for therapy along with spiritual work and healing. Ultimately, this just wasn’t the book for me.
March 19, 2023
I love the premise of this little book... Daily tasks, specifically housework, have the opportunity to make us more holy. The author's writing style was a little flowery for my personal taste, and I feel she could have cut out about 30% of the book, but perhaps it makes more sense as a lecture. I'm not Catholic, so I admit I was a little lost a few times, and I disagree with some of her theology. However, she made some very lovely and encouraging statements, and as a stay at home home to three young children, the reminder that God sees me and has given me this work to do is valuable.

"Laundry, liturgy and women's work all serve to ground us in the world, and they need not grind us down. Our daily tasks, whether we perceive them as drudgery or essential, life-supporting work, do not define who we are as women or as human beings. But they have considerable spiritual import, and their significance for Christian theology, the way they come together in the fabric of faith, is not often appreciated..." (p.76-77)

"The Bible is full of evidence that God's attention is indeed fixed on the little things. But this is not because He is a Great Cosmic Cop, eager to catch us in some minor transgressions, but simply because God loves us--loves us so much that the divine presence is revealed even in the meaningless workings of daily life." (p. 21-22)
Profile Image for Shannon.
384 reviews46 followers
December 12, 2018
Reflections on incarnational Christianity and what that means for our daily, repetitive tasks like laundry and prayer. Reminded me of some of my favorite parts of Wise Child -- the grounding, meditative good of keeping house & hearth. Both Furlong and Norris would argue that this is necessary spiritual work for humans and not "women's work," of course.
Profile Image for Jessie Crosby.
27 reviews1 follower
August 7, 2019
This is (to steal the phrase) a "heart" book for me. A book that resonates so deeply with my soul that the moment I finish it I want to start over again. It recognizes the importance and power of our everyday simple tasks and how powerful those mundane things are to the core of our being. I loved it.
8 reviews
March 9, 2023
The first half was so good! Then the author goes on a tangent about her past and her college days that detracts from the awesome first part and makes the book more about some kind of feminist apology than about the original message of finding spiritual value in daily tasks. 5 stars for the first half, 1 for the second half, and 3 for the conclusion.
Profile Image for Janessa Miller.
108 reviews12 followers
March 17, 2017
There's so much in this book that I want to grasp as holy. So much that I'm terrible at doing well currently. I will definitely be reading it again, and I'm guessing there will be an overboard amount of highlighting.
Profile Image for Rachel.
298 reviews
June 12, 2020
So much wisdom in such a little book. I love this recognition of the potential for spiritual formation in our everyday, routine works. I'll be rereading this whenever I need a reminder of the liturgy and meaning found in the repetition of the normal. His mercies are new every morning.
Profile Image for Tricia .
204 reviews11 followers
October 23, 2020
A quick read that is a gorgeous monastic, poetic vision of housekeeping. One of the unique things I appreciated were her attempts to answer her own simmering questions about feminism and I realized I’ve had the same questions simmering for a long time. Great timing to read this in the middle of my first “real” homeschooling year.
Profile Image for Geneva.
352 reviews2 followers
November 10, 2018
2.5 stars. This is a very short read, but it took me considerably longer than anticipated to push myself through it. It was not a page turner. That said, I do think the author had some really beautiful things to say and some really good take aways. I just didn’t find her writing engaging enough to make it easy to get to those and keep going.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 288 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.