I love to rake. I love everything about it — the sound of the rake scratching against the earth, the smell of the autumn air, the pre-winter peacefulness that seems to be settling into all of nature at this time of year, the crispy brown oak leaves swirling against a steely gray November sky and filling my path as fast as I try to clear it.
This past Saturday, I spent most of the day raking the front and side lawns and painstakingly pulling all the leaves out of the holly shrubs and hydrangeas and boxwoods. And I knew, even as I was doing it, that it wouldn’t last more than a few hours. One look skyward was all the proof I needed: oak trees still laden with too many leaves to ignore. At this time of year, raking feels like a large-scale, leafy version of those intricate sand mandalas Buddhist monks painstakingly create and then blow away. I create crisp leaf-free lines and corners and edges and by the time I turn around all those edges are softened and corners filled in and I have to begin again. But there’s something freeing in that. As I drag leaves across the lawn, I know in the back of my mind that what I’m doing is only for that moment.
All of those things combined — the rhythm, the movement, the fleetingness of the results — make raking a perfect way to pray in the everyday. When I wrote Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality, raking was at the top of my list of ways to pray without ceasing, to turn mundane moments into moving meditations.
And what I find especially interesting is that I can be so at peace with the impermanence of my raking efforts when the same does not apply to other chores I do around my house. Sweeping the floor only to find little pieces of dirt from the tread of someone’s shoe all over the previously clean white tile makes me sort of crazy, as does a freshly cleaned bathroom sink that is covered in blue toothpaste within minutes. But for some reason raking doesn’t come with that baggage, at least not in my world, but maybe my attitude toward raking can begin to inform my attitude to all the other chores in my life. Clean doesn’t last forever or for ten minutes. Can I be okay with that and can I find joy and beauty and peace there anyway?
Give it a try the next time you find yourself with a rake in hand. Tune out everything else and just be in that moment, in the beauty of God’s creation. Pray in whatever way most suits you: the Rosary or intercessory prayer or silent contemplation or song. Let go of the somewhat irksome fact that what you’re doing will have to be done again the next day or the next weekend. And there, amid the swirling leaves, you just may find the Spirit whispering to you.