Luke has an interesting post up today–Thinking through the Mundane Task. It’s caused me to focus for a good chunk of this evening on what it means to care for something. Here’s part of what he says:
I love cutting the herbs and digging the garlic. I love stripping the leaves from the plants. I love washing and chopping the ingredients. I love blanching and peeling the tomatoes. I love these things, not despite the fact that they are mundane, but precisely because they are mundane and because they therefore allow me a kind of solitude to think and to reflect…
I am forced, not just to do the mundane task, but to think through it. Though I do not set out to think, though I do not even know how to go about thinking, it is in these spaces that I find myself thinking nevertheless, that I find myself unable to do anything else.
Read that first paragraph aloud, and feel the rhythm of doing that work in your mouth. Cutting, chopping, stripping, washing, blanching, peeling–the repetition and movement is evident even in the description, imagine doing it.
So he’s making sauce. But that’s not what is happening, not all that is happening. The mundane task, this task of the world, is how he comes to thinking. He thinks through it. Here through means throughout and during, but also by means of. He comes to thinking by means of the sustained worldly task.
How does a task that we would rightly identify as being mindless come to be the means by which he gets to thinking? The answer is care. Care is the opposite of coping. Where coping is centred in the self, in the preservation and defense of the self against the other, care is the defense of the other by me. Care is safe guarding what needs protecting, keeping what is at risk of being lost, remembering and gathering. Care looks out of the self, into the world, coming to rest on the one that calls. It is always a response to what is there, and then the requirements of what is there.
If we listen to the language of care we know that doing something with care implies paying attention to it, attending to it, providing what is necessary, responding to what calls on us, feeling concern, being interested. Care asks that we give ourselves over to what is happening, attend to what is needful in it. This is making tomato sauce, and also, if we are willing to respond, and sustain the response that is required, this is the means by which we get to thinking.